Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is expected to win a record-extending eighth Ballon d'Or award this year AFP / JUAN MABROMATA

Lionel Messi, who has been struggling with injury, returned to doing what he is best at – scoring goals – as he led Argentina to victory over Peru in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Messi netted a brace in a record-breaking performance that helped Argentina comfortably beat Peru 2-0 in Lima on Tuesday. The Argentina captain surpassed his ex-FC Barcelona teammate and Uruguay star Luis Suárez in the tally for most goals scored in the South American World Cup qualifiers. Messi now has 31 goals in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, two more than Suarez.

The Inter Miami forward has been nursing an injury since the last international break, with that issue restricting him to just 72 minutes of game time for his club in Major League Soccer (MLS). Even for Argentina, Messi came off the bench in their 1-0 win over Paraguay last week.

However, on Tuesday, Messi featured in the starting XI for La Albiceleste. More than the two goals Messi scored, his entertaining dribbles during the game made fans go crazy. The video of Messi producing a dazzling dribble that bamboozled two Peru footballers is going viral on social media.

Messi, who is favourite to clinch a record-extending eighth Ballon d'Or this year, opened the scoring for Argentina in the 32nd minute and doubled the lead just 10 minutes later. He continued to create chances and threaten the Peru goal for the third goal but it didn't materialise.

"We have great players. No matter who we play against, it is not noticeable because we have a very marked game that identifies us a lot. We like to do it. We hope to continue down this path," said Messi after Argentina's 2-0 win.

Messi went on to compare this current Argentina side to the legendary FC Barcelona team he played with, which won many silverware including 10 La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League trophies.

"This team [Argentina] is playing better and better. The Barcelona that I had to play was the best team in history, that's a lot, no? But this one is very close I think for what we have been showing, for having become the champion of Copa America and the World, and that has a lot of merit," added Messi.

The Inter Miami skipper, who still has two international fixtures lined up for November, also said that it was the first time he would be having more vacation days in December, during the holidays, and he was looking forward to just soaking that in with a peaceful mind.

Messi also confirmed that he would return to training in January.

Argentina have started the qualifiers on a high, winning each of their opening four games. They have 12 points, five more than second-placed Brazil. Messi captained Argentina to World Cup glory last year in Qatar. While it was Argentina's third World Cup trophy, it was Messi's first. The men in Blue and White are unbeaten in 50 out of their last 51 competitive outings.

Before the end of this year, Argentina have two big games in November, against Uruguay and Brazil.

Ahead of the Peru fixture, when there were doubts about Messi's availability due to his lingering muscle issue, Argentina's head coach Lionel Scaloni asked the media to leave his talented forward alone.

When reporters asked Scaloni if Argentina were preparing themselves for life after Messi, the head coach replied: "Let's keep in mind that he is still here. What a way to think about 'when he is gone'. The truth is that he is still active, let's leave him alone, are we already retiring him?"

The next edition of the World Cup will be jointly hosted by the USA, the country where Messi is currently playing club football, along with Canada and Mexico. Messi, who will be 39 in 2026, hasn't completely ruled out the possibility of playing in the tournament.