SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO, Argentina, March 29, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Argentina captain Lionel Messi on Tuesday scored his 100th international goal for the reigning world champions as they romped to a 7-0 friendly win over outclassed Curacao.
Seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi opened the scoring against the Caribbean island minnows on 20 minutes in Santiago del Estero.
It came 17 years after he opened his Argentina account in a 3-2 defeat to Croatia in March 2006.
The 35-year-old soon added another just after the half-hour mark to make it 3-0, and then completed his hat-trick on 37 minutes with the fifth as Argentina toyed with their overmatched opponents.
It was his seventh hat-trick for the national team.
"You cannot describe Messi in words," said fellow goalscorer Nicolas Gonzalez.
"He's the best in the world and he shows it match after match, day after day. Every time he touches the ball, he makes you smile."
Messi came into the game not just as his country's all-time record goalscorer, but with more goals than the next two top marksmen -- Gabriel Batistuta on 56 and Sergio Aguero with 41 -- put together.
This was Argentina's second match since winning the World Cup in dramatic style against France in Qatar in December -- triumphing 4-2 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw -- and it was always going to be about Messi reaching 100 goals.
Now with 102, he remains third in the all-time list, behind great rival Cristiano Ronaldo (122) of Portugal and Iran's Ali Daei (109).
- 'Straight to the museum' -
Messi had come up short on Thursday last week when he notched his 99th goal for the Albiceleste as Argentina toiled in their homecoming celebration match against Panama.
The Central Americans had held out until the 78th minute before 21-year-old MLS sensation Thiago Almada broke their resistence.
Messi then scored direct from a free-kick a minute from time -- his 800th goal in professional football -- in front of 83,000 delirious fans in Buenos Aires.
Curacao, ranked 86th by world governing body FIFA, could only hold out for 20 minutes before Messi took a pass from Giovanni Lo Ceslo, cut inside his marker onto his weaker right foot and fired a low shot into the bottom corner.
The referee was then seen on live television throwing the ball to someone on the side of the pitch as DirecTV commentators speculated that it was heading "straight to the museum."
Three minutes later Gonzalez outjumped goalkeeper Eloy Room to head home from four yards.
Gonzalez turned provider as Messi scored the first of three goals in four minutes, this time with his left foot.
He then laid off the ball for Enzo Fernandez to make it four with a shot from distance before Lo Celso released Messi behind the defense to notch his treble.
Argentina took their foot off the gas in the second half, with only a generously-awarded Angel Di Maria penalty and close-range finish from Gonzalo Montiel adding to the score.
But the 42,000 fans present remained in party mood throughout, waiting for their heroes to lift the World Cup trophy in front of them.