Riyadh: Lionel Messi drew a rare blank on Wednesday as Argentina could only labour to a goalless draw with Saudi Arabia in a friendly here.
Messi’s two goals for Barcelona in a weekend win over Real Mallorca gave the maestro 76 goals for 2012 to date, beating Pele’s tally of 75 from 1958 and taking him to within nine of Gerd Mueller’s all time record total of 85 set in 1972.
But he missed a chance to close down the deficit on Mueller as the Argentinians plodded to a stalemate in a match short on inspiration or major incident.
Messi thus also failed to move ahead of his 12 goals for the year in his national shirt — a goal here would have taken him beyond the 12 he shares with Gabriel Batistuta.
The Saudis, ranked 112 in the FIFA listings, could even have caused embarrassment to their illustrious visitors — only an offside decision robbed the hosts of a goal when Osama Al Harbi had an effort chalked off on 29 minutes.
Earlier, Mohammad Al Sahlawi had sent an effort whizzing just wide of keeper Sergio Romero’s goal.
At the other end, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero might have earned a penalty but was judged to have been fouled just outside the area.
Just after the hour mark, Aguero slipped down the right and whipped in a cross which Messi just failed to connect with.
Then Yasir Al Shahrani robbed Messi as he prepared to shoot from just inside the box.
Argentina will now turn their focus back to the business of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil - the group leaders’ next qualifier is against Venezuela on March 22 before they head up to the high altitude of La Paz to face makeweights Bolivia four days later.