Lionel Messi stunned the soccer world Monday as just about everyone was talking about his latest incredible achievement.
Unless you have been hiding in a cave or under a rock, you already know that Messi shattered Gerd Mueller's 40-year-old record for most goals in a calendar year on Sunday. He struck twice for Barcelona in its 2-1 La Liga triumph at Real Betis to give him 86 goals -- one more than the German legend -- with three games to spare in 2012.
The Argentine international scored in the 16th and 25th minutes to move past the man known as "Der Bomber."
Messi's nickname "The Flea"-- because he is small and has a confounding way he can move through defenses -- might not be as intimidating but his reputation precedes itself before he even enters a soccer pitch.
"Leo is supernatural,'' Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "He doesn't have limits. We'll always have to remember everything he gave us. We have to enjoy every minute we have with him."
Pique is a wise man. He realizes a player's career could end at anytime. Take, for example, what transpired during Barca's scoreless draw with Benfica in the Euro Champions League match on Wednesday. Messi went down with a knee injury, which even the player thought might have been season ending. It turned out to be a bone bruise and he was given the go-ahead to play Sunday.
Needless to say, he came through with flying colors.
"We won't see another player like [Messi],'' Barca coach Tito Vilanova told reporters. "Not just because of his ability to score. But also for his ability to pass, play defense, and his understandings of the game. He is a global star that helps us in so many ways."
And so humble as well.
"A really big thank you to all my teammates and fans who have made this possible!" Messi said on Facebook. "I could not have done this without you!"
Messi also said: "As I have said many times, the record is nice but the important thing is the victory that keeps us on the patch we want to continue on. As I always say, my objectives are on a team level: to win the league, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey again."
Here are some intriguing numbers to remember:
* Messi leads La Liga with 23 goals. Colombian standout Radamel Falcao, who scored five goals for Atletico Madrid in a 6-0 trouncing of Deportivo Coruna Sunday, is next with 16. "Falcao scoring 5, coming closer, next week against Atletico?" Messi said on Facebook. "It's incredible what he's doing."
* The Argentine has scored 74 goals for Barca and 12 for his country this year
* Messi broke Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year-old record of 232 goals to become Barcelona's all-time leading scorer last March.
* He also tied the record of 14 goals in a single European Cup competition last season, scoring five times in one Champions League match to set another record.
* Messi tallied 73 times in all competitions for Barcelona last season, breaking the European club record of 67 goals set by Mueller in 1972-73 and the world record of 70 established by Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel (American Soccer League) in 1924-25.
And there is always another challenge and mountain to climb. Next on Messi's unofficial bucket list?
Most away goals in the Spanish First Division. He is tied with former Real Madrid great Raul with 86 apiece. Another Real legend, Mexican star Hugo Sanchez, has 99 goals.
But it is only a matter of time before Messi passes Sanchez.
On just about any other day, the Colombian striker would have grabbed all the headlines for what he accomplished. The Colombian marksmen struck five times for Atletico in its 6-0 home triumph over Deportivo La Coruna. It was the first time in a decade that a player scored five times in La Liga since Real Madrid's Fernando Morientes accomplished the feat against Las Palmas in February 2002. After Diego Costa opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, Falcao hit for five unanswered goals. He tallied in the 28th, 42nd, 64th (penalty kick), 67th and 71st minutes.
"His people love him, his team mates respect him a great deal and they follow his lead on the pitch," Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said at a press conference. "Today is an historic day for him. I don't know if any other Atletico player will score five goals in a match. I hope that's the case."
Javier Saviola, Roque Santa Cruz
Saviola, a former Argentine international, scored Malaga's second goal in the 33rd minute and Santa Cruz, a Paraguayan, put in the final one in the 85th minute in their 4-0 victory over Granada.
Pablo Osvaldo, Facundo Roncaglia, Gonzalo Rodriguez
The Argentines played key roles for their respective sides in AS Roma's 4-2 win over Fiorentina. Roncaglia put home Rodriguez's feed in the 14th minute to give Fiorentina a 1-1 tie. Osvaldo enjoyed a happier ending as he tucked in Francesco Totti's through ball for the insurance goal in the 89th minute.
Gonzalo Bergessio, Lucas Nahuel Castro
This pair of Argentines players had central roles for Catania in its 3-1 comeback win at host Siena. After Alessandro Rosina had given the hosts a 10th-minute lead, Castro equalized in the 50th minute. Bergessio struck for a brace during a 15-minute span in the 67th and 82nd minutes.
Yet another Argentine, Denis started Atalanta to its 2-1 home win over Parma with a fourth-minute score.
Diego Milito, Edinson Cavani
Milito, an Argentinean, scored Inter Milan's second goal in the 39th minute in its 2-1 win over visiting Napoli, which had a 54th-minute tally from Uruguay's Cavani.
Fernando Torres, Juan Mata
A pair of Spanish stars dominated the scoring sheet for Chelsea in its final game -- a 3-1 victory over host Sunderland -- before their FIFA Club World Cup appearance later this week. Torres had a first-half brace, scoring in the 11th minute and converting a penalty kick three minutes into added time. Torres almost had a hat-trick as his 49th-minute shot rebounded off the post for Mata to tuck away for a goal.
Zabaleta did his part in helping Manchester City to come back from a two-goal deficit, only to see the hosts lose to archrival Manchester United in stoppage time, 3-2. After a pair of Wayne Rooney strikes gave United a 2-0 halftime advantage, Yaya Toure (60th minute) and then the Argentine (86th minute) scored. But Dutchman Robin Van Persie tallied two minutes into injury time for the win.
Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore
Lavezzi wound up with two milestones in Paris St. Germain's 4-0 shutout of Evian Thonon Gaillard. Not only did the Argentine scored his first Ligue 1 goal in the 28th minute to give PSG a 2-0 advantage, but he also tallied the club's 3,000th goal in all competitions. Countryman Pastore helped set up two goals -- by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Motta.
The Venezuelan international scored an insurance goal in the 63rd minute for Borussia Moenchengladbach in its 2-0 win over Mainz.
The Colombian standout struck in the 77th minute for FC Porto in its 1-0 victory past Moreirense.
Bacca, a Colombian striker, scored a goal in each half to help Club Brugge to a 7-1 drubbing at Beerschot AC. Bacca found the back of the net in the 31st and 64th minutes.
Manuel Villalobos, Omar Merlo
Huachipato earned its second league championship, defeating Union Espanola, 3-2 on penalties, in the series' second leg. The team managed the shootout as Villalobos, a Chilean striker, scored in the 89th minute. Merlo, an Argentine left back, converted the game-winner in the tie-breaker.
Sporting Cristal captured its 16th crown, defeating Real Garcilaso in each leg of the series, 1-0. Ross scored both goals.
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He is in Columbus to cover Sunday’s game, and can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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