Argentina and Brazil drew a tense and end-to-end match 0-0 on Tuesday, meaning both teams retained their unbeaten record in the South American World Cup qualifiers.
Brazil is the only side in the 10-team South American section to guarantee their place in next year’s finals and Argentina, who sit in second place six points behind, look certain to join them.
The top four teams qualify automatically for Qatar, and the fifth-placed side goes into an inter-regional playoff.
Neither side was able to impose themselves in an entertaining match with Fred’s second-half shot for Brazil that clipped the top of the bar the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.
The goalless draw in San Juan means Argentina are now 27 matches unbeaten, a run stretching back more than two years.
The last time these teams met the action lasted just five minutes when officials invaded the pitch to serve Argentine players they accused of not following the proper COVID-19 quarantine rules.
The match this time was hotly anticipated and while it lacked goals it did not lack action.
Alongside Vinicius Jr and Raphinha upfront, Brazil started with Matheus Cunha in place of Neymar, their top goalscorer who did not travel to Argentina amid concerns about a thigh injury.
Vinicius Jr only had the goalkeeper to beat after 17 minutes, but his attempted chip went wide, and Cunha’s ambitious lob from his half flew over just moments later.
At the other end, Alisson got down to save well from Rodrigo De Paul five minutes before halftime.
The game opened up even further in the second half with Fred and Vinicius Jr coming close for Brazil.
But the game was still there for the taking, and inevitably Lionel Messi was involved before the 90 minutes were up.
Messi was back to full fitness to start his first game since October, but the Paris St Germain striker was quiet until the final seconds of the match when he forced Alisson to get down to save a rasping shot from 20 meters.
“I gave it all I could,” Messi said. “This was a very intense game…It’s been a while since I’ve been out (injured) and it’s not easy to play in a game that demands this kind of pace.”
“We knew it was going to be like this, a match that was tough and hard to perform in.”