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Lionel Messi scored a hat trick to give Argentina a 3-0 win over Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday, lifting him above Pele as South America’s top international scorer with 79 goals.

Messi got the opener after 14 minutes in Buenos Aires, dancing around the Bolivian defense before curling the ball into the net from just outside the box.

He made it 2-0 in the 64th minute after working a one-two with Lautaro Martinez and displaying superb footwork in a packed penalty box, then completed the hat trick with two minutes left, crashing home a rebound from close range.

His 77th, 78th and 79th goals marked his seventh hat trick for the national side and lifted him two above Pele on the South American scoring charts.

“I was really anxious, and I really wanted to enjoy it,” Messi said. “I’ve waited a long time for this, I went for it, and I dreamed about it. It’s a unique moment for the way it came about, after waiting so long.”

On a night when Argentine fans were allowed to watch their national team for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Messi broke down in tears as he lifted the Copa America trophy at the Monumental stadium.

Argentina won the Copa America in July, its first major title in 28 years, and Messi danced with his teammates and showed off the trophy to the 21,000 supporters present.

“There was no better way to celebrate than by being here,” he said. “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 is in second place behind Brazil in the 10-team qualifying group for Qatar in 2022. The top four teams qualify automatically and the fifth-placed side goes into an inter-regional playoff.

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