LIONEL MESSI moved within Ron free-kick goal of rival Cristiano with his latest effort for Barcelona.
The Argentine magician, 33, stepped up when his side desperately needed him with a double in the comeback 3-2 win at Valencia.
It earned a pivotal three points in the exciting Spanish title race, Barca keeping two points off leaders Atletico Madrid with four games to go.
After scoring in the aftermath of his saved penalty, Messi added his second and his side’s third on 69 minutes.
He clipped a delightful dead ball over the wall, curling away from the goalkeeper, in off the post for what proved to be the decider.
According to Opta, that was his 50th direct free-kick scored for Barcelona.
And, together with his six for Argentina, Messi moved on to 56 in his career.
That leaves him just one short of Cristiano Ronaldo on 57 – 47 in club football and ten on the international stage with Portugal.
By the end of 2011, Messi had just three club free-kicks but Ronaldo already had 22 for Manchester United and Real Madrid – including that famous strike against Portsmouth in 2008.
Both players have managed to score two free-kicks in the same game three times for their clubs.
Ronaldo, 36, brought up his 100th Portugal strike with his tenth international free-kick last September.
But his record with his efforts is pretty dismal in recent seasons.
He has just two club free-kicks since the start of the 2017-18 season, and none in league football.
As reported by Marca back in March, Opta stats showed £99million man Ronaldo had scored just one direct free-kick from 72 attempts for the Old Lady.
That solo success came last July in the derby against Torino, his 43rd effort.
But Juventus’ No3 stopper Carlo Pinsoglio insists he is far more clinical on the training ground.
He told Tuttosport: “In training, they all go in.
“Why doesn’t he score them in a match? I don’t know, obviously in a match it’s different than in training, but I don’t know. Bad luck maybe.”