“I tied it, still haven’t broken it. But I’m happy to be next to Bati, with all that means.”
Lionel Messi spoke with enormous admiration for his fellow Newell’s Old Boys graduate, Gabriel Batistuta, in the wake of notching his 54th Argentina goal in the Copa América quarter final against Venezuela and drawing level with the great Batigol in the record breaks.
The official count now has both legendary forwards locked at the top of the pile and it is surely just a matter of time before Messi breaks yet another record outright but there has been some confusion in recent years over Batistuta’s figure.
As a warm up match prior to the 1995 Copa América, Daniel Passarella’s Argentina faced a Slovakian B side, made up of youth players, in Mendoza and as expected La Albiceleste swept them aside with little bother.
Having lifted the Copa América in 1991 and 1993 under Alfio Basile, Argentina were looking to make it a hat-trick of tournament triumphs and although Brazil would shortly end that dream in Uruguay, an inexperienced Slovakia side were invited for little more than a run out for the players as part of their preparation.
Batistuta, scored twice in the 6-0 demolition, and at 26 years of age was a centre forward at the height of his powers.
Ultimately as the friendly was billed as a Slovakian B side, these are not counted by the AFA in Batistuta’s list of goals for the national side.
The great number nine has two Copa América titles and scored memorable hat tricks at two World Cups but it leaves his tally on an impressive 54 from 78 matches.
Messi has taken a little longer – 111 appearances – and is still waiting to get his hands on any silverware but the 28-year-old already owns five Ballon d’Ors, is the record goalscorer in La Liga and for Barcelona, so becoming Argentina’s leading marksman seems a formality.
He too benefitted from friendlies against weakened sides, notably when Albania travelled to the Monumental ahead of the 2011 Copa América, but it was still considered an official match.
La Pulga scored in that 4-0 win before the disastrous Copa campaign on home soil and Albania did opt to leave a host of their main players behind, for a game which served as nothing more than a training exercise, but crucially the AFA mark this as a recognised friendly.
Lionel Messi’s calm finish against Venezuela on Saturday evening finally brought him level and Argentina coach Gerardo Martino amid his congratuations was already looking ahead.
“I hope he gets the chance to be alone with the record. I would love for it to happen in the Copa América,” explained the 53-year-old.
With Tuesday’s semi final against the United States and a possible final to come, if La Albiceleste are to end their 23-year trophy wait dating back to when Batistuta fired them to 1993 glory, then the likelihood is that Messi will become the sole owner of the illustrious record.
Regardless of whether Batistuta has 54 or 56 international goals, it would take a miracle for Lionel Messi not to add this record to his growing list of accomplishments.
With the record approaching prior to this Copa América, Batistuta said, “Of course I’ll be sad when he gets it, but it’s not like I’m being beaten by someone from this planet.”
Batigol will forever be remembered as one of the great centre forwards in world football but the record books that have been left in tatters across Europe, just highlight what the 47-year-old was saying: Lionel Messi is without comparison.
Messi’s 50 (pre-2016 Copa América)