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Who are the top scorers in international football?

Lionel Messi’s recent five-goal haul in a friendly against Estonia means that the Argentina attacker has now scored more times in his career than Pele.


Many of Messi’s goals have come for his country, with the magician long having since surpassed the great Pele’s tally of 77 goals in his 92 Brazil caps between 1957 and 1971.


So where does Messi now rank among the greatest goalscorers in international football history?


Ferenc Puskas: 84 goals for Hungary


That the Hungarian great Puskas scored 84 international goals is impressive. But the fact he amassed his tally from 85 games is nothing short of unbelievable.


Puskas also scored at a ratio of nearly a goal every game when he starred at Real Madrid from 1958 to 1966, a period during which he won five league titles and a trio of European Cups.


Hungary may well have won the World Cup in 1954 had Puskas been fully fit. Coming into the tournament among the favourites, Puskas scored twice in their opening game against South Korea and found the net again in rout of West Germany, a game in which he got injured.


Puskas missed Hungary’s next two games but started the final – a rematch against West Germany – but was half-fit having sustained a hairline fracture. While he scored the opening goal, West Germany came from 2-0 down to win 3-2, though Puskas had a late leveller controversially chalked off for offside.


Oddly enough, Puskas then played four times for Spain at the end of his career, including a trio of appearances at the 1962 World Cup, but he did not add to his 84 international goals.


Lionel Messi: 86 goals for Argentina


Messi moved past Puskas earlier this summer and now has a place on the podium in his sights. A seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, it took Messi until last year’s Copa America, at which he was in inspirational form, for him to win his first major international honour with Argentina. Messi had a direct hand in nine of the 12 goals that Argentina scored on their way to lifting the trophy.


Messi announced his retirement from international football in 2016 after he missed a penalty in the Copa America shoot-out defeat to Chile, which meant La Albiceleste had lost three major international finals in close succession. Messi quickly reversed his decision to retire from Argentina duty, though, and scored on his comeback in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay.


He has since taken his game to new levels with Argentina, scoring a hat-trick in a qualifier against Bolivia last September, and Messi could easily surpass 100 goals for his country.


Mokhtar Dahari: 89 goals for Malaysia


Few football fans know the name Mokhtar Dahari, but he is a legend of Asian football history.


Dahari – who was known as Super Mokh – made his international debut at the age of 19 and helped Malaysia to glory at the Southeast Asian Games on two occasions, in 1977 and 1979.


During the 1970s, when Dahari was at the top of his game, he was linked with a move to England and Real Madrid also reportedly offered him a chance to switch to Spain. But Dahari stayed loyal to his home team Selangor with the speedy striker netting 177 goals for the club.


Ali Daei: 109 goals for Iran


The first man to score a century of international goals was Daei, with many assuming at the time that his incredible record would never be surpassed.


The Iranian first came to prominence when playing for Persepolis, with his goals for the Tehran-based team helping to pave the way for a stellar career that saw him feature in the Bundesliga and became the first Asian player ever to feature in the Champions League.


Perhaps Daei’s finest hour for Iran was when he scored four times in a thrilling 6-2 comeback win against South Korea in the 1996 Asian Cup, firing his team into the semi-finals. Towards the end of his career in 2006, Daei played for Iran at the World Cup but he was unable to score.


Cristiano Ronaldo: 117 goals for Portugal


It is nearly 20 years since Ronaldo first played for Portugal but he shows no signs of slowing down. Ronaldo has been starring for his country since he was a teenager, when a series of brilliant performances helped Portugal reach the Euro 2004 final on home soil, losing to Greece.


Ronaldo scored his first international hat-trick in a World Cup qualifier in 2013 against Northern Ireland, then hit all four goals in the play-offs against Sweden to book Portugal’s spot. Ronaldo has sometimes been criticised for his performances at major international tournaments and he had to watch from the sidelines as Portugal won the Euro 2016 title, having succumbed to injury.


His appetite for goals has never been in doubt, however. Ronaldo hit five goals at Euro 2020, drawing him level on 109 international strikes with Daei and securing the Golden Boot. He then claimed the record outright with a header in a World Cup qualifier against Republic of Ireland.


Ronaldo has now hit 10 international hat-tricks – more than any male player in history – and whenever he hands up his boots it is hard to imagine his remarkable record will ever be beaten.


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