Lionel Messi
Superstar Lionel Messi (right) celebrates a goal with Argentina teammate Giovani Lo Celso during the thrashing of Curaco AFP / JUAN MABROMATA

Argentina captain Lionel Messi took a long and winding road to international success, but he has now become only the third footballer to ever score more than 100 goals on the international stage. However, he is still behind eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina's impressive 7-0 victory against Curaçao in an international friendly on Tuesday. This took Messi's international goal tally up to 102. On the other hand, Ronaldo is also seeing action with Portugal over the current international break, and is now holding the record for most goals scored on national team duty with 122.

The 100-goal club

To date, only three players are part of the exclusive 100-goal club. Iran's Ali Daei retired from international duty in 2006, but he held the record as the world's top international goalscorer at 109 goals until 2021 when his record was broken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Since 2021, Ronaldo has scored even more goals, taking the record up to 122 goals and counting. He has not expressed any intention to retire in the immediate future, but at the age of 38, he is expected to hang up his boots in the next couple of years. That said, it is also expected for him to extend the record even further before he finally calls time on his international career.

Messi is in hot pursuit, and the hat-trick against Curaçao helped him narrow the gap to Ronaldo. He was sitting just shot of a century with 99 goals ahead of Tuesday's match, but such was Argentina's dominance over their opponents that they were able to score seven goals on the night, with three of those coming from the captain.

How the magical night played out

The Argentina squad reunited after winning the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the momentum was still clearly on their side. Messi scored his 100th goal thanks to a wonderful assist by teammate Giovani Lo Celso in the 20th minute of the match.

Then, Fiorentina player Nicolás González provided the assist just 13 minutes later, allowing Messi to score again. Curaçao's keeper Eloy Room had no answers to Argentina's onslaught, and it was another pass from Lo Celso that allowed Messi to charge past the defensive line and complete his hat-trick and score his 102nd international goal.

Top-10 international goalscorers of all time

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo - 122 (Portugal)
  2. Ali Daei - 109 (Iran)
  3. Lionel Messi - 102 (Argentina)
  4. Mokhtar Dahari - 89 (Malaysia)
  5. Sunil Chhetri - 85 (India)
  6. Ferenc Puskás - 84 (Hungary/Spain)
  7. Ali Mabkhout - 80 (UAE)
  8. Godfrey Chitalu - 79 (Zambia)
  9. Hussein Saeed - 78 (Iraq)
  10. Robert Lewandowski - 78 (Poland)

The battle for the world record is now clearly being fought only between Ronaldo and Messi. Daei has long since retired, and the man in 4th place, Malaysian legend Mokhtar Dahari passed away in 1991. India's Sunil Chhetri is still active, but he is also 38 years old and is miles away with 85 goals to his name.

Ronaldo and Messi's rivalry has been going strong for over a decade, and winning the World Cup gave Messi an advantage over the Portuguese star. However, Ronaldo will surely want to hold on to the goalscoring record after his World Cup disappointment. Neither player is expected to be on international duty when the next FIFA World Cup comes around, but they have both been pushing boundaries in the sport and may still surprise fans.

Ronaldo will be over forty by then, and he had already declared his World Cup dream to be over when he penned an emotional statement after his team's exit in Qatar. Meanwhile, Messi is a few years younger, but he will also be pushing forty when Argentina go out to defend their title.

A lot can happen in the next four years, but both players do not seem to be too keen on retirement. The debate over which player is better rages on, and it remains to be seen if Messi will be able to snatch the goalscoring record away from Ronaldo.