|Messi scored two against Tenerife on Tuesday to keep Barca at the top of the table [AFP]
There are few individual gongs that elude Lionel Messi and he is fast closing in on one that is missing from his trophy cabinet: the European Golden Shoe.
The Argentina forward has 31 goals in La Liga this season after his double for Barcelona against Tenerife on Tuesday, giving him 62 points in the race to be named the continent's leading marksman with two matches still to play.
Udinese's Antonio Di Natale, Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, who all have 26 goals and 52 points, have a slim chance of overhauling Fifa World Player of the Year Messi, with two Italian Serie A matches and one English Premier League game left.
Gonzalo Higuain has netted 25 for Real Madrid, giving him 50 points, and has three games in which to catch his compatriot as Real have a game in hand over Barca in the Spanish Primera Division.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola paid tribute to the prolific Messi, still only 22, who has 44 goals in all competitions and needs three more in the league to match the club record of 34 in a season set by Brazilian striker Ronaldo in 1996/97.
"He was chasing passes in second-half added time with the same enthusiasm as if it were the first minute," Guardiola said after Barca went four points clear of Real Madrid.
"That's because he's a born goalscorer and he has that gift."
Goals scored in Europe's top leagues are awarded two points, and those in less prestigious leagues 1.5 points.
Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan won the shoe last season with 32 goals.
La Liga Scores
In Spain on Tuesday world Cup-bound Spain forward Juan Mata scored twice and international team mate David Silva netted one as third-placed Valencia came from behind to beat bottom side Xerez 3-1 at the Mestalla in the late kickoff.
Victory for Unai Emery's side all but guarantees them an automatic spot in next season's European Champions League, while defeat for Xerez leaves them needing a miracle to avoid being relegated on their debut in Spain's top flight.
Villarreal's slim hopes of a Champions League spot were killed off when defender Mateo Mucacchio was dismissed in the 16th minute and they lost 4-2 at Almeria.
Striker Roberto Soldado hooked in a spectacular overhead kick to rescue a point for Getafe at home to Sporting Gijon and lift the Madrid club above Villarreal into sixth and a Europa League qualification berth.