Messi moves past Mascherano to become Argentina's most capped player

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Soccer Football - Copa America 2021 - Group A - Bolivia v Argentina - Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, Brazil - June 28, 2021 Argentina's Lionel Messi in action REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer

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BUENOS AIRES, June 29 (Reuters) - With his inauspicious Argentina debut nothing but a distant memory, Lionel Messi became his country's most capped player on Monday in their 4-1 Copa America victory over Bolivia.

A perennial candidate in the 'Greatest of All Time' debate, Messi marked the occasion in style with a virtuoso performance, scoring twice and setting up another in his 148th national team appearance, surpassing Javier Mascherano's record.

It was all a far cry from his debut in 2005 when he was sent off after just 43 seconds.

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Coming on the pitch as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Hungary in Budapest, the then 18-year-old was red carded for swinging an arm in an opponent’s face.

Argentina's record scorer, Messi's 74th and 75th international goals helped extend the side's unbeaten run to 17 games on Monday and booked a quarter-final tie against Ecuador on Saturday.

Argentina have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and Messi, who has won every honour available to him at Barcelona, is desperate for some success in a blue and white shirt.

"I've been lucky enough to win everything at club level and individual level and it would be lovely also to win something with the national side,” the 34-year-old said on the eve of this year’s Copa. “That’s my dream.”

His Spanish club were among those to send their congratulations for his record-breaking achievement on Monday: "A true legend, Leo! Congratulations".

Messi has appeared in three Copa America finals, as well as the 2014 World Cup final, all of which Argentina lost. However, they are in good form going into the last eight of the Copa and are undefeated since 2019.

They next face Ecuador in Goiania on Saturday for a place in the semi-finals.

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Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo; writing by Andrew Downie; Additional reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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