EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Lionel Messi did not play for Argentina in its scoreless draw with Ecuador at MetLife Stadium Friday night because of a leg injury that will keep him sidelined from six to eight weeks.

Then again, the way the two teams shot at the opposing net, they might not score until the Barcelona superstar's return.

Messi's absence certainly was conspicuous after he injured his left in Barcelona's win at Real Betis last weekend. His absence probably held the crowd down to 49,165.

The Argentines will need a healthy Messi if they are to secure their first World Cup since 1986 and third overall at Brazil 2014.

"I think that Argentina is a contender," head coach Alejandro Sabella said. "I think that the favorites are Argentina, Germany and Spain.

"And Messi is the best player in the world. And when he is not there, all of us feel his absence. Wherever he plays, in the team he plays, and wherever he is, if he is not there everything is different."

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Many of the players who played key roles for Argentina winning the South American qualifying group for next year's Cup in Brazil played in the international friendly. The list included midfielders Max Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano, the team captain, and forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

The Argentine players fired 17 shots at the goal, nine on target, an impressive eight in the second half -- including one from Rodriguez that ricocheted tantalizingly off the left post in the 88th minute. Ecuador goalkeeper Sergio Romero made eight saves.

"I believe that Argentina has the potential for the World Cup and that everyone will know that Argentina is a strong opponent," Sabella said. "Tonight, we showed our potential in the second half and had many chances. Unfortunately, we didn't score the goal. But that is a good team from Ecuador that also is qualified for the World Cup."

Ecuador coach Reinaldo Reuda was quite content his team played Argentina even, even if there were no goals.

"Argentina is a football nation of such great prestige and history and I believe it is an accomplishment to play well against them," he 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."