Argentina's chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup didn't receive the significant boost of three points many expected during Tuesday's qualifying game against Venezuela as it settled for a 1-1 draw at El Monumental in Buenos Aires.
Things could have been even worse for Argentina were it not for a 54th-minute equalizer off a shot from Mauro Icardi, resulting in an own goal credited to Venezuela's Rolf Feltscher.
Venezuela opened the scoring in the 50th minute when John Jairo Murillo streaked past the Argentina defenders on a counter, putting a serious scare in the CONMEBOL powerhouse that needed to scramble just to clinch a point.
It's not as if Argentina struggled to assert itself as the better of the two squads Tuesday. According to ESPN FC, it maintained 76 percent of the possession and a head-turning 21-7 advantage in the shots department.
Still, scoring was again the primary issue after a scoreless tie against Uruguay on Thursday left the offense frustrated.
The lack of three points was surprising for more than just the statistical dominance. PA Sport (h/t ESPN FC) noted 16 of Argentina's opening 23 points during qualification came with Lionel Messi on the field even though he appeared in just seven of its first 15 games.
He did what he could Tuesday, as Ives Galarcep of Goal USA pointed out:
This contest took on such importance for the South American power because it sat in a mere fifth place with 23 points in the CONMEBOL qualifying table entering Tuesday's slate of qualifying games.
It was such a precarious spot since just the top four automatically qualify for the World Cup, while fifth place is placed into a playoff situation against a country from the Oceania region. What's more, Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador are all within striking distance of Argentina, although Bolivia beat Chile on Tuesday, maintaining something of a status quo:
This was supposed to be a straightforward three points for Argentina considering Venezuela is in last place in the group, but it was clear from the start that wouldn't be the case.
Angel Di Maria was replaced by Marcos Acuna in the scoreless first half because of injury, which was a blow after he played well before the physical setback and created one of his side's best chances by slicing through the Venezuela defense.
Finishing the chance, as with so many others, was another story for Argentina. Roy Nemer summarized the early concerns:
Things took a turn for the worse for Messi's club when Murillo scored on the counter, placing Argentina's back against the wall. It responded by pressing forward with a sense of urgency, which led to the own goal off Icardi's effort on a perfectly placed pass from the replacement, Acuna.
Argentina will need to make plays moving forward because it is far from out of the woods in qualifying with two games remaining.
The pressure-packed matches come against Peru on Oct. 2 and Ecuador on Oct. 10, as Messi and his teammates need quality performances just to ensure the all-time great has the chance to compete for his first World Cup title.