CORDOBA (Argentina) • Lionel Messi scored his 50th international goal as Argentina notched their third straight victory in South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament.
Messi swept in an emphatic spot kick after half an hour to help Argentina to a 2-0 win over Bolivia at the Estadio Mario Kempes in Cordoba, lifting the two-time world champions to third in the overall standings.
The Barcelona star's goalscoring exploits make him only the second player in Argentina's history to reach a half century of goals.
The 28-year-old is now closing in on legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta's record of 56 goals, set between 1991 and 2002.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner also needs only one more goal to reach 500 goals for club and country - raising the prospect that he could achieve that milestone with Barcelona this weekend when the Spanish giants take on Real Madrid in the Clasico.
Messi, meanwhile, was satisfied with yet another Argentina win, which suggests their troubled start to qualifying - which began with a shock 2-0 home defeat by Ecuador - is firmly in the rear-view mirror.
"Beating Bolivia and Chile is what we wanted," he said, referring to last week's hard-fought win over the Chileans in Santiago.
"We've come from a low position in the standings to a high one, but there is still a long way to go," the Argentina skipper said.
"This (campaign) is very long and what's important is that we won and remain on course.
"I'm happy with goal No. 50 but more because we won and this helps to keep growing," he added.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino was pleased with the two wins.
"It was fundamental to get the six points. I think we played a serious match and won well," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS