Lionel Messi has enjoyed numerous career highlights
In a career littered with individual brilliance, Lionel Messi produced one of his greatest performances on Tuesday to lead Argentina to the 2018 World Cup.
The 30-year-old scored a stunning hat-trick to secure a 3-1 win over Ecuador and give Argentina an automatic qualification place in Russia.
How does Messi’s inspirational display compare to some of his previous efforts? We look back at some his career highlights.
Clasico hat-trick (March 2007)
The moment that Messi announced himself to the world?
He was only 19, and only playing in his third Clasico, yet Messi was already showcasing his ability to single-handedly inspire and carry a team. Three times Barcelona trailed against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, three times Messi equalised to earn a point in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Messi’s final goal came in the 87th minute when, with Barcelona down to 10 men, he brilliantly controlled a pass from Ronaldinho, swept past a sliding Ivan Helguera and fired across goal past Iker Casillas.
Juliano Belletti celebrated the goal by wrapping his arms around Messi and lifting him in the air, almost showing him off to the Camp Nou crowd, saying “He is ours”.
Look back at Messi’s hat-trick against Real Madrid in 2007
Too good four Arsenal (April 2010)
After a 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, Arsenal travelled to the Camp Nou with hope of making the last four. And that hope grew when Nicklas Bendtner scored in the 18th minute to put the Gunners ahead on aggregate.
But it took Messi just two minutes to cancel out Arsenal’s opener, before he decisively turned the tie in Barcelona’s favour by scoring twice more before half-time.
Messi capped off a dazzling individual display by scoring his fourth of the game two minutes from time, jinking past a challenge from Emmanuel Eboue and then holding off Thomas Vermaelen before finishing past Manuel Almunia.
Bendtner afterwards described Messi as “phenomenal” while Arsene Wenger said he is the “best player in the world”.
Messi scored four goals when Barcelona beat Arsenal in 2010
Real-ly special (April 2011)
Messi’s displays against Manchester United in the Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011 were virtuoso, but they were topped by his wonderful, tie-defining performance against Real Madrid in the first leg of the semi-final in 2011, capped by one of his best-ever individual goals.
Having given Barcelona the lead at the Bernabeu with the opening goal, Messi then gave his side control of the tie when he drove through the middle of the pitch, slalomed past several players, powered into the box and finished expertly across goal.
It was a wondrous goal, started near halfway by Sergio Busquets, who collected the ball, laid it off for Messi and then stood completely still and watched, as if to say ‘Go and do the rest’. And he did,Messi celebrates scoring against Real Madrid
Fantastic five (March 2012)
Perhaps not the most significant fixture – a Champions League last-16 second leg against Bayer Leverkusen – but a significant achievement as Messi became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match.
The 24-year-old scored twice in the first half before adding three more after the break to help Barcelona cruise into the quarter-finals with a 7-1 second-leg win.
Wayne Rooney’s reaction on Twitter said it all. “Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”
Messi takes the match ball after his five-goal haul
Clasico magic (April 2017)
One of the most dramatic moments in Messi’s career as he snatched a 3-2 victory for Barcelona in El Clasico with the last kick of the match at the Bernabeu.
Having scored a trademark opener – jinking into the box past two players before coolly finishing into the bottom corner – it looked as though Messi’s efforts might be in vain as Barcelona were drawing 2-2 late in the game. Only a win would do for Barca to keep their La Liga title hopes alive.
And Messi delivered in injury-time. Jordi Alba pulled the ball back and Messi swept home a pin-point finish inside the near post to secure victory. The celebration was just as iconic as Messi removed his shirt and held it up for the home crowd to see, and maybe marvel at just a little.
Argentina hat-trick (November 2017)
Messi to the rescue. With Argentina trailing Ecuador and in need of a win to guarantee their place at the 2018 World Cup, who else would step up?
Messi levelled in the 12th minute before putting Argentina ahead shortly afterwards. However, he saved the best for last as he picked the ball up 35 yards from goal, drove forward and then chipped the goalkeeper from outside the box.
Argentina’s win ensured they finished third in the qualifying group and gives Messi another chance to add a World Cup to his trophy cabinet.
Paulo Dybala was an unused substitute for Argentina and said afterwards: “I am blessed to watch Messi and be close to him and play with him.”