Messi sets new scoring record with latest Barcelona hat-trick
Three more goals against Nicosia sets new European record to go with Saturday's Spanish landmark
Apoel Nicosia 0 Barcelona 4. Lionel Messi notched yet another hat-trick as Barcelona thrashed the champions of Cyprus in their Champions League encounter and the Argentine striker set yet another record in the process. The 27-year-old Messi went into the Group F game level on 71 Champions League goals with former Real Madrid forward Raul. Not for long. Once Luis Suarez had given the Spanish giants the lead on 27 minutes, Messi decided it was time to get in on the act.
His strike on 38 minutes took him past Raul's record, and by the end of the evening he had added two more to take his European tally to 74. Not a bad night's work for Messi, and another milestone in his remarkable career to go with the one he established on Saturday when he surpassed Telmo Zarra's record (set for Athletic Bilbao in the 1940s and 50s) of 251 top-flight goals in Spanish football.
He smashed that record in style, scoring a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Sevilla, and his latest three-goal salvo in Nicosia was Messi's 28th hat-trick of his career, and his fifth in the Champions League.
In fact, Messi has racked up his 74 Champions League goals in just 91 appearances, far fewer than the 142 games it took Raul to accumulate his 71 goals. Small wonder that Barcelona coach manager Luis Enrique later described his striker as "the greatest player of all time", insisting that he would "continue to surprise us all for years to come".
Even the Nicosia coach, Giorgos Donis, joined in the acclaim, telling reporters: "My opinion of Messi is the same as everyone else's opinion. He is a phenomenon. He can do so many wonderful things when he has the ball at his feet."
Messi spoke to reporters after Tuesday night's win – a victory that keeps Barcelona second in the group, one point behind Paris Saint-Germain who beat Ajax 3-1 – and told them: "I am happy for having achieved such a nice record in a competition of this importance. But the really relevant thing is that we took the three points."
Bland words but words all the same, which is more than Spain's football press got on Saturday after the Sevilla match. On that occasion Messi refused to speak to the press, most of who appear to be more interested in the growing speculation that he might leave the Camp Nou at the end of the season than his record-breaking achievements.
Messi, for his part, is allegedly furious at his impending trial in Spain for tax evasion with the South American footballer and his father accused of withholding 4m euros (£3.1m) stretching back to a period between 2007 and 2008.
In an interview with Spanish broadcaster Radio Cope, former Barcelona player and manager Johan Cruyff admitted Messi could move. "What I imagine really annoys Messi are his run-ins with the tax authorities, because the whole thing is linked to the club and he is being investigated every three or four years. They are unpleasant things... I imagine that there are clubs willing to pay €200m for him."