Lionel Messi cannot stop scoring in the Champions League. The Argentine hit nine goals in the 2008-09 competition, netted eight the following season, added 12 more last year as Barcelona claimed a second title in three seasons, and is leading the charts again this time around, with seven strikes in six games so far. Now, he has yet another record in his sights.
Still only 24, Barca's fantastic forward is the tournament's all-time leading marksman in knockout games, with 19. In addition, he has already become only the second player to finish as top scorer for three seasons running in Europe's premier club competition - be it the old European Cup or the modern-day Champions League (after German legend Gerd Muller). And should he conclude the current campaign at the summit of the charts once again in the competition, he will be only the second man to be first in the goals list on four occasions (Muller is the other) - and the first to do so in consecutive years.
Muller, the feared frontman in a Bayern team which won three European Cups in succession in the early 1970s, was the competition's leading scorer in 1972-73 (with 11 goals), 1973-74 (with eight), 1974-75 (tied with Eduard Markarov from Soviet side Ararat Yerevan) and in 1976-77 (level with Zurich's Italian striker Franco Cucinotta).
Before the German great, Portugal legend Eusebio finished as top scorer in three separate editions, sharing the honour with Benfica team-mate Jose Augusto Torres in 1964-65 (with nine goals), then ending level with Ferencvaros' Florian Albert a year later (with five) and going on to become the competition's top scorer outright in 1967-68, when the Lisbon side lost out to Manchester United in the final.
EUROPEAN CUP & CHAMPIONS LEAGUE |
TOP SCORERS THREE TIMES OR MORE
More recently, Marseille's Jean-Pierre Papin claimed the honour three years in a row at the beginning of the 1990s, although the French forward was never an outright top scorer as he netted six in 1989-90 (to finish level with Romario, then of PSV Eindhoven), six more the following year (the same as Austria's Peter Pacult) and one more in the third campaign to tie with Benfica's Ukrainian striker Sergei Yuran.
Another Ukrainian, Andriy Shevchenko, makes this list as well. The former Ballon d'Or winner was the competition's joint-top scorer in 1998-89 with eight goals (along with Manchester United's Dwight Yorke) while still in his homeland with Dynamo Kiev. And at AC Milan, the Ukrainian topped the scoring charts outright with nine European goals in 2000-01 and 2005-06.
But Messi is set to overtake all of those as he aims to end the season as the Champions League's top scorer for a fourth season in succession. In the current edition, the Argentine already has six strikes to his name, one more than Bayern's Mario Gomez and two above Lyon's Bafetimbi Gomis.
So add to that tally tonight versus Bayer Leverkusen and Messi can celebrate not only his first Champions League goal at Camp Nou this season, as well as likely passage to the last eight of the competition, but another potential milestone in his sensational story of success, too.
Soon, the only records left to break will be his own.
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