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Players

Lionel Messi breaks Gerd Müller's 40-year goal record

Lionel Messi has scored two goals in a Spanish league game for Barcelona, taking his tally in all competitions for the calendar year to 86. He therefore beats the 1972 record of 85 goals set by Gerd Müller, "the Bomber."

Lionel Messi, three-time World Player of the Year and Barcelona's all-time leading scorer at just 25 years of age, has now scored more goals in a calendar year than any professional footballer in history.

Messi bagged a brace away to Real Betis on Sunday in Spain's La Liga, taking his tally for 2012 to 86 goals - one more than Gerd Müller scored in 1972. The 40-year record was one that seemed like it might never fall.

Lionel Messi of Argentina (2L), FIFA World Player of the Year holds his FIFA Ballon d'Or 2011 trophy next to FIFA President Sepp Blatter (L), UEFA President Michel Platini (2R) and Ronaldo (R) during the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2011 soccer awards ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich January 9, 2012. (Photo via Reuters)

Messi has won the last three consecutive World Player of the Year awards

Both Messi's goals were hit low into the far-post corner with his left peg; the first the culmination of a typically mazy, improvised dribble and the second a first-time shot off a tasty backheel from teammate Andres Iniesta.

"A really big thank you to all my teammates and fans who have made this possible! I could not have done this without you," Messi wrote on his official Facebook page after the game.

The goals also cemented Messi's place as Barca's all-time top league scorer, with 192 goals in La Liga compared to Cesar Rodriguez's 190 between 1939 and 1955.

A prolific pair

Müller, Germany's all-time leading goal-scorer nicknamed "The Bomber" at home and abroad, is a relatively withdrawn celebrity, but recently spoke to German daily "Die Welt" about his record falling.

"I'm very happy for him. He's the best in the world right now, it's simply great to watch him," Müller told Die Welt. "Records don't mean that much to me personally, but if anyone deserves to overtake me, then it's Messi."

Mathmeticians, however, might still point to Müller's banner year in 1972 as the most prolific of all time.

The Bayern Munich and West Germany goal-poacher netted his 85 goals in just 60 matches; Messi needed 67 games with Barcelona and Argentina to notch up his 86.

Müller is also Germany's top-scoring international striker, having notched 68 international goals in just 62 matches for the former West Germany. Miroslav Klose, with 67 goals to his name, is looking to break that record. However, he has played 127 games to date for the national team - meaning his ratio is less than half as imposing as Müller's.

In domestic football, Müller was the Bundesliga's top scorer in seven separate seasons.

Barcelona's soccer player Lionel Messi poses with the Golden Boot trophy in Barcelona, October 29, 2012. Messi won the trophy for scoring the most goals in Europe's domestic leagues last season. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Gerd Müller scored 398 goals for Bayern Munich, won the Bundesliga four times and won the 1974 World Cup

The classic and the false "nine"

Unlike Messi, Müller was never named World Player of the Year, only managing the European honor in 1970.

Though similarly prolific, Messi and Müller are two very different players. Müller was the quintessential "Knipser," the German term for a goal-poacher that roughly translates as "sniper," while Messi has helped invent football's latest in-vogue concept, the "false nine."

Messi plays as a nominal striker for Barcelona, but will often drop deep into midfield to get possession, allowing his gifted teammates to run forward into the space he vacates. As a result, the Barca superstar sets up almost as many goals as he scores - not a trait typically associated with "Der Bomber."

The new record of 86 goals is by no means set in stone. Messi will play three more league games for Barcelona before the year's out. If he can stick to his mean scoring quota, that means he's liable to bang in around 90 before 2013 begins.