United States: An Argentina side without superstar striker Lionel Messi played Ecuador to a goal-less draw on Friday in an international football friendly between World Cup qualified teams.
Both South American squads are set for the global football showdown next year at Brazil, but they advanced in very different fashion.
The Argentine lineup set the pace in CONMEBOL qualifying, although World Cup host Brazil was not in the picture, while Ecuador taking the last of four guaranteed berths on offer, edging Uruguay on goal difference.
Argentina was without Messi because of a torn left hamstring suffered Sunday by the 26-year-old playmaker in a 4-1 Barcelona victory over Real Betis in a Spanish League match. Messi is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
Right hamstring and thigh issues had sent Messi to the sidelines earlier this season.
Both Ecuador and Argentina will play another friendly on US soil in the next few days against a team that has already booked a berth in the World Cup showdown.
Argentina will play Bosnia and Hercegovina on Monday at St. Louis and Ecuador will face Honduras on Tuesday at Houston.
World Cup host Brazil will play two North American matches in the next few days as well, meeting Honduras on Saturday at Miami and Chile in Toronto on Tuesday.