8 key moments in Lionel Messi's Argentina career
Lionel Messi reaches his 100th cap for Argentina on Saturday night, and to celebrate that we look at how his international career has developed on the biggest stage of all: playing for your country.
The little magician has amassed 46 goals in 99 games playing for La Albiceleste, and has helped set up some 27 scores so far too.
But there have been plenty of highs and lows since that short-lived start in 2005, with a red card shown within just 45 seconds of making his international debut.
1. Senior debut: a 1-2 away win against Hungary on August 17, 2005, being sent off after 65 minutes by German referee Markus Merk for catching young defender Vilmos Vanczak with a flailing arm. The young superstar turns away worried, and rightly so as Merk sends him off. Gabriel Heinze and Juan Pablo Sorin are on hand to offer the youngster support after the underwhelming mere 45-second international start for the subsequently four-times-Ballon-d'Or winner. Messi has never received a red card for his country since, and has only had four yellows waved in his direction as the star has lead a controlled and disciplined international career since.
2. After a "re-debut" (according to Messi himself) against Paraguay in World Cup Qualifying in a 1-0 defeat in September 2005 (he plays 10 minutes), the young Lionel then begins his first competive match for the Argentinean national side in the same month: a 2-0 win against Peru at El Monumental in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
3. Messi next scores and registers his first assist for his country - first setting up Carlos Tevez to slide in at the back post in a 3-2 defeat to Croatia in 2006, before then curling in from outside the area with that deft left foot. This is to be but one of 27 assists for the frontman during his international career so far, and the first of 46 international strikes.
4. The Barcelona forward then scores his first World Cup goal for his country against Serbia-Montenegro in 2006, as the Europeans are crushed 6-0. Messi begins the tournament as an unused sub against the Ivory Coast and is also unused by coach Jose Pekerman as the South Americans are sent tumbling out of the tournament on penalties by hosts Germany in the quarter-finals. Might things have been different if Messi had started that game in Gelsenkirchen?
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5. The dimunitive forward grabs a late goal against Peru in Barquisimeto on July 9, 2007 to score for the first time at the Copa America. He also helps assist a rare Javier Mascherano goal in the match, before finding the net in a 3-0 romp against Mexico in the semi-final of the competition. Unfortunately international honours elude the extraordinary 27-year-old as Brazil beat Messi's team 3-0 in the final. The little Argentine superstar has yet to see his country win a competition, but they remain favourites to win the Copa America 2015.
6. Messi gains the captain's armband for the first time at the 2010 World Cup, as he leads his countrymen to a 2-0 victory in the group stages against Greece. Argentina are again eliminated by Germany, however, and Messi has a tournament to forget, unable to register on the scoresheet but setting up four goals during the competition's first round. Embraces from coach Maradona, who the Barcelona forward is so often compared to, are scant consolation.
7. Leo knocks in his first hat-trick in a friendly against Switzerland on February 29, 2012, before then notching his second in a terrific 4-3 victory against Brazil in a friendly held in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This is possibly Messi's most complete performance wearing his country's shirt, as he scores a late winner via a trademark slaloming run from the halfway line and powerful left-foot finish.
8. At World Cup 2014 the Rosario-born genius captains his country to the World Cup final, following scoring in all three group stage games, against the likes of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria and Iran – a stunning late winner. Although he fails to register once the knock-out stages begin, Messi does set up the winning goal in the Round of 16 game against Switzerland, to help his nation through to the quarters. Improving at each tournament, will Messi finally lead his countrymen to glory at Russia 2018?