The Real Madrid man cancelled out Zambrano's opener to ensure that his side would leave Lima with a point, but it was the home team that looked most likely to take the winArgentina performance was rescued by Gonzalo Higuain, who netted the side's only goal to earn a 1-1 draw against Peru in Tuesday's World Cup qualifying clash.
Claudio Pizarro missed an early penalty before Carlos Zambrano pushed the Inca into the lead during the first half, in a game where the hosts would have been worthy winners for an uncompromising, energetic performance. Higuain, however, ruined hopes of a home victory by turning in Ezequiel Lavezzi's cross, saving Sabella's charges from their first defeat against Peru since 1997.
The sides kicked off in amidst a frenzied atmosphere in Lima's Estadio Nacional, and Peru almost instantly had the chance to go ahead. Jefferson Farfan was given far too much space on the right hand side and when Angel Di Maria's clumsy, chest-high challenge felled the midfielder a penalty was rightly called in the first minute of the encounter. Claudio Pizarro stepped up, but failed to strike cleanly and Sergio Romero saved Albiceleste blushes.
The visitors failed to capitalise on that early let-off, playing sloppy, insipid football in the face of fierce marking from the Inca. That enthusiastic defending occasionally crossed the line; Luis Advincula was one of three Peru men to receive a booking in the second half for a nasty challenge on Javier Mascherano.
22 minutes into proceedings, Sergio Markarian's men took the advantage. A well-worked set-piece found Luis Advincula alone on the right hand side, and the full back crossed low into the area where Carlos Zambrano, slipping between two defenders, poked the ball home. Advincula almost laid on another from the same flank, but Hugo Campagnaro arrived just in time to pressure Andre Carrillo and force the striker to hit over.
Argentina had failed to create even one decent chance as the first half came to a close, but a swift counter proved why the South American giants are always a danger. Federico Fernandez's long ball found Ezequiel Lavezzi in space and, with Peru pleading for an offside, the Napoli man crossed for Gonzalo Higuain to drive first time past Raul Fernandez and level the game. The goal could not hide the visitors' deficiencies, with Lionel Messi a virtual spectator as Peru made good on their promise to mark 'La Pulga' out of the game.
Lavezzi had been one of Argentina's biggest threats in attack, and 'Pochi' threatened to put his side in the lead just after the interval. The striker was given space on the edge of the box and hit a venomous shot, but Fernandez was equal to it and palmed behind for a corner. Up the other end, Zambrano's defensive partner Alberto Rodriguez was denied by Romero after a rebounded corner, and Pizarro had Argentine hearts in their mouths when his looping shot struck the post.
Sabella's men continued to flag under relentless pressure, and lost Fernando Gago who was taken off in some discomfort after clashing with Rinaldo Cruzado. Farfan tormented the away side down the right, and only on the break did Argentina appear to pose any threat to their confident rivals. At the other end, the chances kept coming for the Inca. Pizarro was one of several players who almost put his side back into the lead, heading just wide after cleverly shaking off the attentions of Ezequiel Garay.
In the end the Argentines were forced into an unfamiliar battle to hold on to the point despite a gilt-edged chance for Zambrano at the death which was snaffled by Romero. But although they just about managed their objective, staying at the top of the Conmebol standings with seven games played, serious questions will have to be asked about the quality of the team away from the star-studded attacking line-up.