Argentina's World Cup qualification hopes were dealt another blow after they were held to a goalless draw by Peru in Buenos Aires.
Lionel Messi weaved his magic and hit the post but he was unable to lift Argentina to victory as Jorge Sampaoli's slumping side dropped out of the qualification spots for next year's showpiece tournament on Thursday.
The blockbuster fixture against fourth-placed Peru at the iconic La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors – could not inspire Argentina, who controlled proceedings but were unable to find a way past Pedro Gallese in the Argentine capital.
Messi – playing ahead of Paulo Dybala who was an unused substitute along with Mauro Icardi – huffed and puffed, teeing up surprise inclusion Dario Benedetto, debutant Emiliano Rigoni and Marcos Acuna, though his team-mates failed to capitalise.
A fourth qualifier without victory coupled with Chile's win over Ecuador saw Argentina drop to sixth in the CONMEBOL standings, outside the play-off position heading into next week's final matchday.
Sampaoli made five changes to the team who were held to a 1-1 draw by Venezuela last month. Dybala was the most notable casualty, despite his stunning form for Italian champions Juventus, as the Argentina boss revealed it was too risky to pair he and Messi given their similarities and lack of time together.
Inter captain Icardi also made way, along with Guido Pizarro, Lautaro Acosta and Federico Fazio as Boca Juniors forward Benedetto surprisingly came into the XI at his home ground, having scored five goals in five league matches, and he was joined by Acuna, Lucas Biglia, Alejandro Gomez and Gabriel Mercado.
There was a recall for veteran Jefferson Farfan, who failed to make it off the bench in Peru's 2-1 win in Ecuador in September. Gallese reclaimed his place in goal after recovering from injury as Carlos Caceda dropped to the bench. Ricardo Gareca also included Sergio Pena and Miguel Araujo at the expense of suspended duo Andre Carrillo and Christian Ramos, and Christian Cueva.
Argentina kicked off with intent and purpose, pressing Peru deep into their own defensive half as the visitors struggled to touch the ball.
Peru breathed a sigh of relief in the 14th minute when Messi's goal-bound strike deflected wide for a corner. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner – playing at La Bombonera for the first time – found himself unmarked on the edge of the penalty area after the Peruvians were caught napping.
The visitors managed to stem the tide, working their way back into contest to enjoy more time on the ball. Argentina, albeit missing the end product, continued to be a threat in attack though as Gomez's powerful strike forced Gallese into a fingertip save from an acute angle, before Farfan almost broke the deadlock at the other end.
Messi was at the centre of another Argentina chance seven minutes prior to half-time, the Barcelona star's long-range curling effort going agonisingly wide of the post. And he was at it again on the stroke of the break after picking out Benedetto with an inch-perfect cross but his team-mate headed over the crossbar when he should have scored.
The post thwarted Messi less than a minute into the second half after following up Benedetto's effort, which was initially saved by Gallese, who then produced a fine stop to deny Biglia in a hectic start following the break.
Gallese made a huge save to stop Acuna from close range after the Sporting CP man was played through on goal by Messi approaching the hour-mark as another opportunity went begging.
Messi weaved his magic again, cutting the ball back for debutant Rigoni in the six-yard box but the 24-year-old failed to hit the target from point-blank range, while he teed up Benedetto only for Gallese to stand firm after Argentina's woes were compounded by an injury to substitute Fernando Gago within minutes of his introduction.
Paolo Guerrero almost snatched victory at the death, his stoppage-time free-kick leaving Sergio Romero scrambling.