Romania and Argentina played to a scoreless draw on Wednesday evening in an international friendly at the National Arena in Bucharest.
Both teams had chances to score in a match that featured plenty of action in both boxes. Romania had a goal ruled out in the first half, and Argentina saw a late chance saved from close range.
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi started and played the full 90 minutes for Argentina. He recorded two shots, according to ESPN FC, including an early free-kick chance.
Wednesday's friendly was part of Argentina's preparations for this year's FIFA World Cup. Currently ranked No. 3 in the world by FIFA, Argentina will be looking for a third title this June and July in Brazil after claiming the trophy in 1978 and 1986.
To get it, Alejandro Sabella's men will first have to navigate their way through Group F, which also contains Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Argentina's opening match, against Bosnia and Herzegovina, is scheduled for June 15 in Rio de Janeiro.
The Albiceleste will enter the tournament as one of the eight seeded teams, and perhaps one of the favourites for the title. Along with Messi—who won the Ballon d'Or as the world's best player in 2010, 2011 and 2012—Argentina's squad boasts top-class talents such as Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain, Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria and others.
But against Romania, a team that didn't qualify for this year's World Cup, Argentina laboured to find goals.
Messi needed little time to generate his first scoring opportunity, trying his luck with a free-kick in the fourth minute after Aguero drew a foul about 10 yards outside the box in the middle of the pitch. Messi's shot deflected off the wall and went out for a corner, from which Federico Fernandez headed over a minute later.
The visitors carved out a chance in the 11th minute as Di Maria sped down the left flank and crossed for Gonzalo Higuain at the back post. But Higuain's first touch took him too far wide and Ciprian Tatarusanu saved from a tight angle.
Romania were dangerous in the early exchanges as well, with Florin Gardos heading over from a corner in the 17th minute. Four minutes later, Ciprian Marica directed a glancing header goalward, but Sergio Romero tipped the ball over the bar.
Argentina created another chance in the 30th minute. Aguero accelerated through the middle and laid off for Di Maria on the left. Di Maria crossed for Higuain, who controlled expertly with his first touch at the back post before pulling back for Aguero in the middle. Aguero's shot deflected off target.
Romania came even closer in the 33rd minute. Alexandru Matel crossed from the right for Alexandru Maxim, who directed a low header on target from close range. But Romero saved to keep the match scoreless.
The hosts then put the ball in the net three minutes later, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Maxim finished Matel's cross from the right, but the linesman ruled a teammate offside as the ball went into the net.
Argentina had the next chance in the 39th minute as Aguero dribbled past two defenders in Romania's box and forced a save from Tatarusanu with a low shot. The match was scoreless at half-time.
In the 48th minute, Aguero ran on to Javier Mascherano's pass on the right, rounded goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon—who had entered as a second-half substitute—and tried a shot from a tight angle. But Gardos slid across to make a timely block in the middle.
Higuain flashed a shot wide of the near post in the 67th minute, and three minutes later, substitute Rodrigo Palacio redirected Di Maria's cross off target.
Argentina had another chance in the 79th minute when Mascherano picked out Di Maria with a pass over the top. But Di Maria shot over the bar. Six minutes later, Pantilimon saved point-blank from Ezequiel Lavezzi's volley to keep Romania level.
The hosts gave as good as they got in the first half and perhaps should have led through the disallowed goal. Marica also came close with a glancing header that Romero did well to tip over the bar.
Romania, it should be noted, did not qualify for the World Cup. Apologists of UEFA will suggest—perhaps with good cause—that this result speaks to the continent's quality in depth.
The visitors started the match well but might have considered themselves fortunate to be on level terms at half-time. The attacking line of Aguero, Messi and Higuain is an imposing one, and the rest of the squad boasts quality at every position.
If Sabella's side are in form at the World Cup, they will be difficult to beat. The final product wasn't present Wednesday, but Messi and company created numerous chances and posed danger throughout.
Messi, who was pictured vomiting on the pitch during the match, played down suggestions that he was ill.
As quoted by Goal.com, Messi said: "It's something that always happens, it happened to me several times at my club so there's nothing to worry about."
I don't like putting up excuses but the pitch conditions didn't help. The truth is that it was hard to stop the ball in less than two or three touches, we did what we could.
In the second half we played better than in the first. Now, we still have two games to prepare and keep on growing to make it in a perfect condition to Brazil.
Argentina will play two more friendlies before the World Cup, against Trinidad and Tobago and Slovenia.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!