‘It means everything to him’: Messi in tears as he celebrates Copa America in Argentina after breaking Pele record (VIDEO)

‘It means everything to him’: Messi in tears as he celebrates Copa America in Argentina after breaking Pele record (VIDEO)

Lionel Messi was unable to hold back the tears as he lifted the Copa America trophy in front of Argentina fans for the first time, after scoring a hat-trick to overtake Pele as South America’s top scorer in international football.

Messi and Argentina ended their long wait for a Copa America title by beating hosts Brazil back in July, but Thursday marked the first time the team was able to celebrate the achievement in front of their fans.

Facing Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier at Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Messi ran riot as he scored three times – taking him to 79 goals for his country and elevating him above Brazilian icon Pele as the continent’s all-time leading international scorer.

Messi’s first came after 14 minutes as he jinked around the Bolivian defence before finishing brilliantly from just outside the box.

The Argentina skipper make it 2-0 in the 64th minute after a smart exchange with fellow forward Lautaro Martinez, and sealed his hat-trick with two minutes remaining, powering in a rebound from close range.

The goals saw Messi overtake Pele’s South American milestone of 77 strikes which the Brazilian legend plundered during his illustrious career.

It was an emotional night for Messi as around 21,000 Argentine fans were allowed to watch their national team for the first time since the Covid pandemic struck.

The tearful maestro was unable to contain his joy at lifting the coveted Copa America title in front of them after the match. 

“There was no better way to celebrate than by being here,” said the iconic number 10.

“My mum is here, my siblings are in the stands. They have suffered so much and they are here celebrating. I am very happy."

Argentina’s suffering in major international tournaments had lasted 28 years before they finally ended that curse against bitter rivals Brazil this summer.

Fans online said Messi deserved to finally add major international silverware to a trophy cabinet which is already overflowing with titles won at club level.

"Messi crying tears of joy after getting the chance to play in front of the Argentina fans again and celebrate the Copa America title with them," wrote one fan. 

"Such a pure moment for him and for all of Argentina. This means everything to him."

Earlier in the week, Messi, 34, had said that winning the Copa America had given him “peace of mind” after personally missing out in three finals in the tournament – as well as in the World Cup final of 2014.

“I have peace of mind of having achieved the dream that has been denied to me so many times,” Messi had said. 

“It was like a dream, a spectacular moment. I couldn't believe it had happened. I enjoy watching the images now more than at the time as I was in a daze. I didn't quite understand what was happening.”

Argentina’s victory keeps them second in South America’s notoriously tough World Cup qualifying standings, with 18 points from eight games. Brazil remain top with a perfect eight wins from their eight games.

The two rivals had been due to play each other in Sao Paulo on Sunday, but the match was abandoned after around five minutes in farcical circumstances when police and health officials stormed the pitch in an attempt to deport a quartet of Argentine players whom they said had flouted quarantine laws.

FIFA announced that it has opened a disciplinary enquiry into the bizarre scenes.    

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