Argentina star Lionel Messi thanked the crowd and scored the 800th goal of his career on Thursday night as he led an evening of unforgettable celebrations at the Monumental.
As ever, Messi was instrumental in Argentina's 2-0 friendly win over Panama in Buenos Aires. After the match, he took to the microphone and thanked an adoring crowd for the affection they had shown the team after the World Cup triumph at Qatar 2022.
The national team skipper scored the Albiceleste's second goal with a formidable free kick into the left corner, after several similar attempts, including two shots off the crossbar, to hit what was his 800th goal and 99th in the light-blue-and-white jersey.
As soon as the match was over, an awards ceremony similar to the one in Qatar was held, and before lifting the prized trophy to cheers from the crowd, Messi addressed the 83,000 spectators who packed River Plate’s stadium.
"Thank you for the love we've been receiving since before we won this. As we've been saying, we were going to do everything we could to win it [the World Cup]. Personally, I always dreamed of this moment, to celebrate with you, to come to Argentina and lift a Copa América, the Finalissima, and the biggest thing, which is the World Cup," Messi said.
The captain continued as an ecstatic crowd cheered, adding that "today is our day, and we are all celebrating, but I don't want to forget my team-mates who did everything they could to win this cup [before] and unfortunately it didn't happen. They also deserve respect and recognition," in reference to the runners-up place Argentina secured at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
"Let's keep doing what we've been doing, let's enjoy this. It took us a long time to be able to win this cup. Hopefully it won't take so many years to win it again. It's very difficult to win a World Cup, sometimes it's not possible because of the details. Let's enjoy this third star," concluded the star to wild applause.
Speaking to the press, Messi later said that "we knew it was going to be like this, it's a unique moment that will remain for life, for the people who couldn't go to Qatar, and to be able to enjoy this.”
He admitted: “The affection of the people makes me very happy. Now that I'm world champion, the affection I receive is even greater.”
“It's difficult to explain what I feel," he continued. “Personally, I suffered a lot. It wasn't easy. I remember coming to Argentina and having a bad time because things didn't work out. I think a lot about the lost finals of the Copa América, the 2014 World Cup, which we didn't win because of details, but you go through what you have to go through because the reward was great.”
The Argentina captain, who is one goal away from scoring 100 strikes for the national side, also said that "God is the one who rules and who chooses the moments, and it had to happen this way. Now we have to enjoy it.”