Riyadh: Argentina laboured to a goalless draw against Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, as the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero struggled to showcase their talents.
Albiceleste coach Alejandro Sabella will be unable to take many positives after his men turned in a dour display, not least because they appeared short of ideas in trying to carve open the Saudi back-line.
Messi drew a smart save from goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah with a curling shot from 20 yards, after some neat link-up play with Aguero early on, but it was the hosts who came closest to breaking the deadlock on 19 minutes, only for Naser Al-Shamrani to shoot tamely at Sergio Romero.
The visitors constantly looked for a killer ball through or over the Saudi defence, but more often that not either Messi or Aguero were caught offside.
And the home team thought they had taken a shock lead when Mohammad Al Sahlawi headed in Saud Kearairi`s free kick at the far post, only to be flagged offside.
Again the Albiceleste tried the long ball over the top and again they were unsuccessful, so Messi took it upon himself to try a change of tact moments later. The No.10 ran straight at the heart of the Saudis, but his ball to the left was too strong for Angel Di Maria to catch.
The South Americans twice went close five minutes before the break, first when Pablo Zabaleta`s low shot was comfortably saved, and then when Messi got to the byline, but the Barcelona man was unable to cut the ball back to Eduardo Salvio. Di Maria did break the offside trap following another direct pass, this time from Javier Mascherano, but he was flagged anyway.
Within a minute of the restart Messi was picked out with another ball over the top, but he was tackled in the nick of time by Yasir Al-Shahrani.
Five minutes later, the Barca man sent a curling free kick narrowly over the crossbar, but again the Argentines fell back into their slow rhythm and seemed happy to pass the ball between the defenders and midfielders.
And they were almost made to pay after 65 minutes when Yasser Al Qahtani was first denied by the out-rushing Romero and then Fabricio Coloccini, who turned away the attacker`s weak follow-up effort on the line.
Soon afterwards, Romero was the hero once more when he raced from his goal to again thwart Al Qahtani, who had ran straight through the Argentine defence. Straight down the other end, half-time substitute Franco Di Santo was denied by Wahleed at his near post.
Argentina created their first real chance of the evening with 13 minutes on the clock, but Di Santo headed the ball well over the crossbar from Di Maria`s cross. Moments later, Aguero turned the ball around the corner for Messi on the edge of the box, but the latter was denied again by Waleed Abdullah.
Di Santo once more showed that the international stage is still beyond his capabilities when he fired well off target with four minutes on the clock.
But the Argentines should have had a penalty in the fourth minute of added time when the referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, despite the fact that Abdullah`s challenge was at least a couple of yards inside the box.
Aguero bent his shot wide, and the final whistle was duly called on an embarrassing night for Argentina, who have a vast amount of work to do as they build towards the 2014 World Cup.