Lionel Messi continued his path to a coveted international goal-scoring record by striking for another brace in yet another Barcelona victory.
Messi scored twice in a game for the seventh time this season in Barca's 3-1 La Liga win over Real Zaragoza at Nou Camp on Saturday.
After moving past Pele last week, the Argentine superstar has taken aim at former German great Gerd Mueller, who tallied a world-record 85 goals in a calendar year in 1972. Messi, who has an amazing 78 goals, has eight games remaining this year to make some more history. He needs to average one goal a game, which is not out of the question.
That includes a UEFA Champions League match against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday, a La Liga encounter at Levante on Sunday and Copa del Rey game at home against Alaves on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Messi has found the back of the net 66 times for his club and a dozen times for his country. Messi, who has 17 goals for first-place Barcelona (11-0-1, 34 points) this season, also created Alex Song's goal. Barca still leads Atletico Madrid by three points after it recorded a 1-0 win over Granada.
Barcelona became the first side to win 11 out of its 12 opening La Liga games since Real Madrid accomplished the feat in 1991-92.
"The players made a big effort and you noticed they were tired after long trips to play with their national teams," Barca coach Tito Vilanova told reporters. "Leo is decisive and the great teams have great players, but he doesn't win games on his own."
But he does a pretty good job trying.
Messi gave Barca the lead in the 16th minute as chipped Jordi Alba's past into the lower corner of the net. Francisco Montanes helped the visitors equalize in the 24th minute when his attempt deflected off central defender Carles Puyol and past goalkeeper Victor Carles.
But four minutes Messi did some magic by setting up Song for a 2-1 lead Barca did not relinquish. Messi struck yet again for an insurance goal in the 60th minute.
Meanwhile, third-place Real Madrid scored five times in its 5-1 romp over Athletic Bilboa, although incredible as it may sound, Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score as he returned after suffering a gash above his left eye last week. Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira found the back of the net for Real, which also was aided by an own goal.
The ultra-talented Uruguayan continued his assault on opposing goalkeepers by striking for both his goals during an 11-minute span in the second half in a 3-0 home win over Wigan Athletic. Suarez struck gold in the 47th and 58 minutes before Jose Enrique closed out the scoring in the 65th minute.
Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva
Manchester City's Latino connection was running at full throttle in its 5-0 triumph over Aston Villa. Argentinean internationals Aguero and Tevez each recorded a brace and Spanish standout David Silva added a goal in the English Premier League match. City did not score until Silva's 43rd-minute strike, but then piled it on over the next 31 minutes. Aguero added a goal in the 54th minute and a penalty kick in the 67th minute. Likewise for Tevez, who converted a penalty in the 65th minute before closing out the scoring nine minutes later.
Fulham FC endured more than its share of knocks during its 3-1 home defeat to Sunderland. Not only did the team squander an opportunity to accrue three points at home, it lost two starters in the process — Costa Rican international winger Ruiz and Alexander Kacaniklic to hamstring strains. “We’re looking at them being out for least three weeks each,” Fulham manager Martin Jol said.
After striking for three goals in two games last week, the Mexican international striker went from great to ordinary for Manchester United in its 1-0 defeat to Norwich City. Chicharito did not create dangerous opportunities and was replaced by Danny Welbeck.
Edgar Barreto, Carlos Labrin
A wild, wild game in Bologna as Palermo had three players red carded in a 3-0 loss. Barreto, a Paraguayan, and substitute Labrin, a Chilean, were sent off in the 72nd and 82nd minutes, respectively, as the visitors finished the game with eight players. Samir Ujkani also was given his marching orders. Bologna also had a player dismissed.
Only five minutes into the match, the Argentine tallied to give Fiorentina a 1-0 lead en route to a a 4-1 triumph over visiting Atalanta.
Rodrigo Palacio, Ricardo Alvarez
Two Argentineans played vital roles in Inter Milan's 2-2 home draw with Cagliari. Palacio scored in the 10th minute. Marco Sau helped the visitors to a 2-1 advantage with goals on either side of halftime (43rd and 66th minutes) before Davide Astori redirected an Alvarez cross for an own goal eight minutes from time.
Pereyra found the back of the net for Udinese in its 2-2 home tie with Parma. The Argentine scored in the 50th minute to boost the hosts into a a 2-1 advantage before Raffaele Palladino equalized in the 89th minute.
The Mexican international saw red with Spanish teammate Sergio Garcia in the 89th minute of Espanyol's 2-1 defeat at Valencia. Both players were sent off for protesting the referee's decision to award a penalty kick after Moreno was called for a handball. Spain's Roberto Soldado converted the penalty as Valencia broke a 1-1 tie.
The Argentine put the finishing touches of Olympique Lyon's 3-0 home win over Stade de Reims by scoring in the 90th minute.
Pastore created Paris St. Germain's lone goal in its 2-1 home defeat to nine-man Stade Rennes. The Argentine helped the French Ligue 1 leaders equalize as he set up Nene in the 21st minute. After the visitors grabbed the lead again, Pastore's half-volley hit the post in the 60th minute.
An own goal did in the Mexican international goalkeeper and his AC Ajaccio teammates in a 1-0 home loss to FC Sochaux-Montbeliard. Samuel Bouhours put the ball past Ochoa in the 11th minute. Ochoa finished with three saves.
Juan Ramon Rocha
The 58-year-old Argentine directed Panathinaikos to a 2-0 home win over PAOK Salonika in his first game as coach. He replaced Jesualdo Ferreira, who resigned. Zeca scored in the 51st minute and Vitolo added a penalty kick in the 84th minute.
Rodriguez, a Colombian, scored the first goal for FC Porto in its 2-1 win over visiting Academica Coimbra. He struck in the 50th minute, 12 minutes before Joao Moutinho doubled the lead.
The Colombian scored a goal in each half for Club Brugge in its 6-2 trouncing of Waasland-Beveren. Bacca found the back of the net in the 10th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead and added to the onslaught for a 5-0 advantage in the 58th minute.
Pedriel, a Bolivian, scored in the 20th minute for Sivasspor. However, the team which could not hold the lead and settled for a 1-1 draw with Genclerbirligi on Hursut Meric's 70th-minute penalty kick.
Cristaldo finished with a brace -- a goal in each half -- as FC Metalist Kharkiv registered a 2-0 win over Illichivets Mariupol. The Argentine tallied in the 10th and 58th minutes.
Oscar Boniek Garcia
Boniek Garcia, a Honduran international, put the nail in D.C. United's coffin by scoring the first goal of the Houston Dynamo's 1-1 tie in Washington, D.C., which boosted the visitors to the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference title and into MLS Cup. Boniek Garcia roofed a flick from the right side by Brad Davis in the 34th minute. Houston won the aggregate goals series, 4-2,. and will play defending champion LA Galaxy in the championship game on Dec. 1. The Galaxy lost its Western Conference second leg at the Seattle Sounders, 2-1, but won its series, 4-2.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.