Comparing Lionel Messi and Pele’s international goalscoring records

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Lionel Messi celebrates scoring against Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

With his hat-trick against Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires on September 9 2021, which included one typically stunning strike, Lionel Messi overtook Pele to become the leading all-time goalscorer for any South American nation. 

Pele and Messi are undoubtedly two of the greatest footballers ever to grace the field and both have stunning records in front of goal for country and club.

At international level, Messi now has 79 since his Argentina debut in 2005, while Pele managed 77 in his Brazil career, which spanned from 1957 to 1971 and included three World Cup triumphs.

Messi might not be able to match that trophy haul – his only international silverware came in 2021 at the Copa America – but he can at least now say he has surpassed the Brazilian in one very concrete sense.

But how do their goal records compare under closer scrutiny? We’ve taken a look at how many games it took each player to reach their respective record-breaking totals, the rate at which they scored and the competitions they scored in.

Lionel Messi

Overall
Games: 153
Starts: 139
Sub appearances: 14

Goals: 79
Penalty goals: 17

Minutes per goal: 160
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 204

Friendlies
Games: 47
Goals: 34
Penalty goals: 7

Percentage of total goals: 43%
Minutes per goal: 106
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 134

World Cup qualifiers
Games: 53
Goals: 26
Penalty goals: 7

Percentage of total goals: 33%
Minutes per goal: 173
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 237

Copa America
Games: 34
Goals: 13
Penalty goals: 3

Percentage of total goals: 16%
Minutes per goal: 224
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 291

World Cup
Games: 19
Goals: 6
Penalty goals: 0

Percentage of total goals: 8%
Minutes per goal: 271
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 271

Read: 17 of the best quotes on Lionel Messi: ‘Life with Leo is prettier’

Pele

Overall
Games: 90
Starts: 87
Sub appearances: 3

Goals: 77
Penalty goals: 3

Minutes per goal: 92
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 95

Friendlies
Games: 64
Goals: 51
Penalty goals: 3

Percentage of total goals: 66%
Minutes per goal: 93
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 99

World Cup qualifiers
Games: 6
Goals: 6
Penalty goals: 0

Percentage of total goals: 8%
Minutes per goal: 86
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 86

Copa America
Games: 6
Goals: 8
Penalty goals: 0

Percentage of total goals: 10%
Minutes per goal: 66
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 66

World Cup
Games: 14
Goals: 12
Penalty goals: 0

Percentage of total goals: 16%
Minutes per goal: 105
Minutes per non-penalty goal: 105


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