Lionel Messi on Thursday became South America's all-time top international goal-scorer, surpassing Brazil great Pele's record, with his hat-trick inspiring Argentina to a 3-0 win over Bolivia in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Pele scored 77 goals for Brazil in 92 games, with Messi equalling that tally with the first of his three strikes and went on to net his 78th and 79th goals for Argentina at the El Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires. 

Messi's 79 goals have come in 153 games. He became Argentina's all-time top-scorer in 2016, when he surpassed Gabriel Batistuta's 56 goals.

Messi opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a superb curler to find the top-left corner from outside the box and equal Pele's haul. He then went past the mark with a close-range effort in the 64th minute, before capping off his seventh international hat-trick with a goal in the 88th minute. 

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However, Messi is still behind the Brazilian duo of Marta (109) and Cristiane (96) for top goal-scorers among any South American players in international football. 

Messi's Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) teammate Neymar is third on the list of top South American goal-scorers in men's football, who has scored 68 goals in 112 games for Brazil. Messi is currently sixth on the all-time list of top male international goal-scorer, which is led by Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 111 goals in 180 games. 

Messi also overtook his former Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez for most goals among CONMEBOL players, having now scored 26 goals in World Cup qualification matches. 

The diminutive forward also scored eight goals in 11 matches against Bolivia, making them his favourite opposition.  

Messi recently won the first major international trophy of his career with Argentina, defeating Brazil in the Copa America earlier this summer. He had previously lost four major finals with his country, after winning an Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008. 

He made his debut for PSG prior to the international break, coming on in the second half for a cameo against Reims in the Ligue 1. He will next be in action on Saturday, when PSG take on Clermont.