A laser-guided free kick, a poke from a brilliant backheel, and an audacious chipped goal: Lionel Messi’s 51st career hat trick was so good the opposing fans stood and applauded

Lionel Messi.

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Lionel Messi.
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Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

  • Lionel Messi’s most recent display was one of his best of the season as opposing fans couldn’t help standing and applauding.
  • Messi converted an 18th-minute free kick, poked home a brilliant backheel just before halftime, and scored a stunning chip from an area most players wouldn’t dream of shooting from.
  • It was a stunning hat trick and a perfect performance, but Messi – forever modest – said it was due to luck rather than skill.
  • Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-2019 soccer season right here.

Lionel Messi performed so well Sunday that even opposing fans couldn’t help standing and applauding.

With a low center of gravity, ball skills that made it look as if he had glue on his cleats, and incredible vision, Messi evaded his man markers, found space, and created countless plays throughout FC Barcelona’s 4-1 win at Real Betis.

He also secured a 51st career hat trick, with the third strike perhaps the best of the lot.

Read more: Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroic hat trick doesn’t change the fact that his game remains in long-term decline

It all began in the 18th minute when Barça was awarded a free kick approximately 25 yards from the goal. Messi stood five paces from the ball, took a short run-up, and aimed at the goalkeeper’s near side. The ball flew beyond the keeper’s fingertips and into the top corner of the goal. 1-0.

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Messi grabbed his second just before halftime when he ran into Luis Suárez’s brilliant backheel to poke the ball into the net from the side of the penalty spot. 2-0.

Suárez went from goal provider to goal scorer when he netted Barcelona’s third in the 63rd minute, 19 minutes before Loren Morón pulled one back for Betis.

But Messi was not done, and he completed his hat trick just before halftime when he scored an audacious, exquisite, and outrageous chip across goal from an acute 18 yards.

Precious few players would even dream of shooting from there, let alone scoring, but Messi made it look easy as he nonchalantly had Lopez beat for the third and final time of the evening. 4-1.

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Messi’s goal and his performance in general were so good that Betis fans in the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

“I don’t remember a night like this,” Messi said, according to Goal.com. Ever modest, he then said his goals were due to luck rather than skill. “I’m really grateful for the way the fans responded. I was just lucky that they went in and that we got the three points.”

Read more: 5 factors suggest Real Madrid is months away from making Neymar the world’s first player to generate $600 million in transfer fees alone

Together with his three goals, Messi returned a passing accuracy of 90% from 57 passes, created four goal-scoring opportunities, and showed off his passing range with seven long balls and one cross.

The soccer-statistics website Whoscored.com gave Messi a 10/10 performance rating, his sixth flawless grade of the season.

Messi is next in action with Barcelona on March 30 when the team hosts Espanyol in a La Liga match at Camp Nou.