Lionel Messi denied Mexico a morale-boosting win ahead of next month’s Confederations Cup playoff against the United States, with a late goal to rescue a 2-2 draw for Argentina in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Hector Herrera had put Mexico on course to secure Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti a first win since taking interim charge last month with a goal in either half of an engrossing contest at AT&T Stadium. But Sergio Aguero’s arrival off the bench late on proved the catalyst for a late fight back. After registering a simple finish to reduce his side’s arrears, the Manchester City striker teed up Messi for a superb chest and volley combination to stun the majority of the more than 82,000 in attendance.

The late collapse will sting, yet this was a match where the positives certainly outweighed the negatives for Mexico. Tigres coach Ferretti had seen his planned four-game reign get off to shaky start in a 3-3 draw with Trinidad and Tobago on Friday. But, while there had been little to savor from that performance, there was much to encourage in another high-scoring draw over the World Cup and Copa America runners-up. Pressing diligently and intensely, Mexico limited the threat of an Argentina attack led by Messi and Carlos Tevez for much of the contest until substitutions reduced their success late on.

Throughout Mexico also posed a threat on the counter attack. And it was on the break that Mexico inflicted the damage. They got off the mark when Raúl Jiménez ran in behind the Argentina defense down the right, encouraging Nicolas Otamendi into a desperate lunge from behind to try and retrieve the situation. A penalty award was hard to dispute and Hernández made no mistake from 12 yards to move onto 41 goals for his country and within five of Mexico’s all-time scoring leader, Jared Borgetti.

While Argentina had their openings, Tata Martino’s men found Moises Munoz in fine form in the Mexico goal. And El Tri maintained their threat surging forward, and looked to have decisively doubled their lead with 20 minutes remaining when Miguel Layun found Herrera to fire in his second goal for his country, four days after his first.

But the late substitutions for both sides were to greatly benefit Argentina. First Aguero tapped home with five minutes remaining after fellow-substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi rounded Munoz. And then with just over a minute left on the clock Aguero, who was the star man in Argentina’s 7-0 destruction of Bolivia at the weekend, set up his partner in crime, Messi, with a delightful ball over the top of Mexico’s now struggling defense.

Ferretti moved back to the 3-5-2 formation utilized to such positive effect during the early part of the reign of his predecessor, Miguel Herrera. And, for the most part, on this occasion it worked well at both ends of the field. It was only once a strong lineup, controversially missing Giovani dos Santos, but with Rafael Márquez back in the fold and Hernandez and Jiménez posing a constant threat up front, departed that Argentina got back into the game. And, particularly after this performance, it may well be the same lineup that takes on the United States in a month’s time for the right to go to Russia in 2017.