AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Without soccer's absolute best player, Argentina couldn't find the net.
Still, it played an entertaining 0-0 draw Friday night with Ecuador in a friendly between two South American nations that have qualified for next year's World Cup.
Argentina, which won its continental qualifying for Brazil 2014, was without injured star Lionel Messi, whose leg problem will keep him out as much as two months. La Albiceleste could have used his brilliant scoring touch as they repeatedly missed good chances in the second half.
"Messi is the best player in the world and any team will feel the difference without such a player," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. "When Messi is not there, the other players feel that, but they also know they must be strong and try to make up (for his absence)."
That didn't quite happen, but the Argentines came close.
As the clock ticked down, Maxi Rodriguez, a World Cup veteran, fired a shot off the near goal post. That summed up the Argentines' trouble finding the goal despite dominating most of the second period.
Ecuador had lots of opportunities, too, especially in the opening 45 minutes, but could not connect.
"Argentina is a football nation of such great prestige and history and I believe -- we believe -- it is an accomplishment to play well against them," coach Reinaldo Rueda said. "Of course, you want to win against such a team. At this moment, it's important to be able to compete against a team like Argentina and to show our strengths."
Outplayed for a half, Argentina came out strongly after the break. Twice in the first five minutes, Angel Di Maria was in position to open the scoring. First he shot wide and high, then goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez parried his hard drive.
Di Maria kept trying, replicating his wide shot from outside the box in the 53rd, then repeating his twisting shot that Dominguez again had to punch away. Argentina seemed to be closing in on the first goal, only to have Ecuador nearly get it on a counterattack. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero had to be sharp to get down to block Juan Carlos Paredes' shot from the right wing.
As Argentina pressed, Ricardo Alvarez went wide after a steal. Rodriguez, who scored a memorable goal in the 2006 World Cup to beat Mexico, nearly won it in the 88th.
"Tonight, we showed our potential in the second half and had many chances," Sabella said. "Unfortunately, we didn't score the goal. But that is a good team from Ecuador that also is qualified for the World Cup."
Ecuador missed a magnificent chance to get on the board in the 12th minute when Jefferson Montero, by far the most effective player in the first half, fed Antonio Valencia in front of the net. Valencia's header crashed against the goal post.
The Ecuadorians, who qualified fourth in South America for next year's World Cup, pressed throughout the first half. Several times, players shot over the net, bringing groans from the pro-Ecuador crowd of 49,165.
Argentina had some scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes, too, especially Ezequeil Lavezzi's shot low and wide of a gaping net in the second minute. The wide-open style suited the Argentines, ranked third by FIFA. But they lacked a finishing touch.
Of course, so did Ecuador, ranked 22nd.
Argentina had nine shots on goal, eight in the second half. In the opening period, Ecuador tried 11 shots.
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