Messi's hat trick leads Argentina over Brazil 4-3
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For Lionel Messi, the amazing has become routine.
Capping his record-setting season with a spectacular display, Messi scored on three dazzling runs to finish with an unprecedented 82 goals for club and country and lead Argentina over South American rival Brazil 4-3 in an exhibition Saturday.
"It was a very good year, and this was a great way to finish it," Messi said through a translator.
Even injured Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera found his way into Argentina's locker room after the match, which drew 81,994 at MetLife Stadium -- a record for soccer in New Jersey.
"It's beautiful that people actually recognize me and know me and love my play," Messi said. "But again, I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't because of my teammates."
Already a three-time FIFA Player of the Year at age 24, Messi scored 73 goals in 60 games this season for Barcelona, breaking the previous European club record of 67 goals set by Bayern Munich's Gerd Mueller in 1972-73 and the world club record of 70 by Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel in the American Soccer League in 1924-25.
Messi had nine goals in nine games for Argentina in the same span, raising his career total to 26 in 70 appearances. His goals in the 31st, 34th and 84th minutes gave him his second international hat trick and boosted his totals to 12 hat tricks this season and 22 in his career.
"I don't feel like I'm one of the best players yet," Messi said. "I want to keep growing, getting stronger and be in front of my team -- and win, of course, because when you win, everything's easier."
Brazil dominated in the first 20 minutes, and Romulo put the Selecao ahead in the 23rd from short range with a right-footed shot from 8 yards off Neymar's free kick.
Messi followed by flashing the explosive speed and technical ability that has many ranking him alongside Pele and Diego Maradona among soccer's greatest players.
Gonzolo Higuain stripped the ball from Sandro just before midfield and made a through pass to Messi. He outran defenders Bruno Uvini and Juan, took a touch and slotted in from about 15 yards.
Three minutes later, Messi exchanged passes with Angel Di Maria -- usually a rival on Real Madrid -- near the center circle, then burst in, rounded goalkeeper Rafael Cabral and scored from 10 yards.
"Amazing. Amazing. It's unbelievable," said midfielder Javier Mascherano, his teammate on Argentina and Barcelona. "He's the best player in the world, maybe one of the best players in history."
Using a mostly youthful roster ahead of the Olympics, Brazil took a 3-2 lead on goals by Oscar in the 56th and Hulk in the 72nd, the latter when goalkeeper Sergio Romero batted a corner kick right to him, but Frederico Fernandez tied it three minutes later when he headed in a corner kick by Sergio Aguero, who had just entered.
Then came a goal that will long be remembered. Messi took a pass just past midfield near the sideline, dribbled around Marcelo and cut diagonally for the goal. He took a half-dozen touches as defenders dropped back. Then, with Juan stepping up to stop Messi's run, the Argentine cut to the center and a yard shy of the arc set loose with a 23-yard rocket that went in just under the crossbar.
Messi ran to his bench and was mobbed by teammates as Rafael Cabral turned and retrieved the ball from the net with a disgusted look. It was his 26th goal in 70 games for Argentina.
"Nobody can defend again him," Albiceleste defender Pablo Zabaleta said through a translator. "He makes the difference on any team. He's incredible, the way he plays. He goes hand in hand with his team. He goes from the right, the middle, shares the ball. You can't stop him."
Barcelona lost its Champions League and Spanish league titles, but won the Club World Cup and Copa del Rey this season. Argentina, coming off a disappointing 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America, is in the middle of qualifying for the 2014 tournament, which will be played in Brazil.
"I'm not sure if the amount of goals made me feel better," Messi said. "Being able to finish like this against Brazil and win, I'm happy, I'm calm. I didn't ask for the ball, but they gave it to me anyway."
NOTES: While this was Messi's last formal match of the season, he has a charity game in Burkina Faso on June 16 and all-star exhibitions at Colombia (June 21) and at Miami (June 23). Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marcelo received red cards for fighting in injury time. Lavezzi had entered in the 88th. ... Romulo and Oscar scored their first international goals. ... Argentina improved to 35-34 against Brazil with 24 ties, according to FIFA.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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