Argentina and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi set a new record for the most goals scored in a single calender year on Sunday when he scored twice to bring his total to 86 for 2012, breaking the 40-year-old record set by German Gerd Mueller.
Lionel Messi broke German legend Gerd Mueller's 40-year-old record for the most goals in a calendar year on Sunday, netting his 86th goal of 2012 against Real Betis.
The 25-year-old World Player of the Year earlier equalled Mueller's mark when he picked up the ball in a central position in the 16th minute and left the Betis defence standing before sending an angled shot across the goal into the bottom right corner.
Andres Iniesta's clever back heel set the Argentine up to score again nine minutes later with a sweeping shot from a similar position just inside the penalty that flew into the same corner of the goal.
A favourite to secure a fourth successive World Player award when the winner is announced next month, Messi has netted 74 times for Barca and 12 for Argentina in 2012, beating Mueller's total for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.
He has scored 56 in La Liga, 13 in the Champions League, three in the King's Cup and two in the Spanish Super Cup and still has two league matches and one King's Cup game to add to his tally before the end of the year.
Messi, from Rosario, Santa Fe, is also set to add to his impressive haul of awards as he is in line for a record fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or.
What sets him apart is the effervescence of his dribbling, the inventiveness of his team play and the extraordinary regularity of his goalscoring.
Messi has also proven himself capable of rising to the occasion when the sport's biggest prizes are on the line, with three Champions League winners' medals and five La Liga crowns to his name.
He has also won the FIFA Club World Cup twice and is Barca's leading scorer with 283 goals in all competitions.
In terms of pure ability with a football, Messi bears comparison to any player who has ever played the game, but his one Achilles heel is his inability to reproduce his Barcelona form in the light blue and white stripes of his country.
Messi's goalscoring record with Argentina is a disappointing 31 goals in 76 games, and he was unable to prevent his country from crashing out in the quarter-finals at both the 2010 World Cup and last year's Copa America in his homeland.
Traditionalists contend that, for all his astonishing exploits at club level, he cannot be compared to Pele or his feted countryman Diego Maradona until he has left his imprint on a major international tournament.
His next opportunity will arrive at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when - at the age of 26 - he should be in prime position to showcase his gifts on the game's most prestigious stage.
"I still have this dream and that is to be a world champion and lift the Copa America with the national side," Messi said recently.
"And I know I'll do it, I'm convinced I will."
As for the Ballon d'Or, due to be presented in January, only Michel Platini has previously won the accolade for three years running but Messi appears destined to surpass the Frenchman as well as Dutch legends Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, who were also honoured with the award on three occasions.
"Messi will be the player to win the most Ballons d'Or in history," predicts Cruyff.
"He will win five, six, seven. He is incomparable. He's in a different league."
Away from the sport, Messi cuts a far more bashful figure than his great rival Ronaldo, but that has not prevented him from amassing a huge personal fortune through several lucrative endorsements, notably with Adidas.
He was named one of Time magazine's people of 2011 and is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, but it is through his dazzling dribbling, his carefully weighted passing and his artful finishing that he has earned his global fame.
Typically deployed in a roving forward role, he roams the pitch with seemingly boyish abandon and few things hush a stadium more quickly than the sight of Messi embarking on one of his gambolling runs toward the goal.
"There are no words left to describe him -- he is interplanetary," said Real Zaragoza coach Jose Aurelio Gay in March 2010.
"We could have beaten Barcelona, but we could never have beaten Leo Messi. If we had scored four, he would have scored 12."
And another terrifying thought for Barcelona's rivals is that he is getting even better.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-12-09