BUENOS AIRES, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Argentina's talent-laden team remained inexplicably stuck in a rut after Wednesday's 1-1 stalemate in Peru, their fourth successive World Cup qualifying draw and their fifth match without a win.
Alfio Basile's side returned to Buenos Aires on Thursday morning amid media speculation of rifts in the squad and growing frustration at their failure to play to their potential.
Argentina appeared to be set for a barely-deserved win when Esteban Cambiasso turned the ball in at the near post in the 83rd minute.
But they were foiled when Johan Fano equalised with the last kick of the game in the fourth minute of injury-time.
Basile's reaction on the touchline said it all as he gesticulated angrily in a mixture of exasperation and disbelief before heading for the dressing-room.
"This run is going to end eventually," Basile, whose team's next game is at home to Uruguay next month, told reporters. "The match was even, there were chances for the two teams.
"Everyone in Argentina knows that we need time to work.....but we only have the players for four days before the game."
Lionel Messi, who looked dispirited after repeatedly being hounded off the ball by a cluster of Peruvian defenders, had a similar explanation in a TV interview given before the game.
"The World Cup qualifiers are always complicated and most other teams play defensively against us," he said. "We only spend a few days together and we need time as a group."
The media were not impressed and refused to accept a first-half injury to Jonas Gutierrez, who dislocated his shoulder, as an excuse.
Instead, commentators asked why the left-sided attacking midfielder was replaced by Sebastian Battaglia, a tackling specialist, instead of Angel Di Maria.
"Another disappointment which adds to the doubts," said the daily newspaper Clarin.
Basile will have plenty to think about before naming his squad for the Uruguay match.
Carlos Tevez faces a lengthy suspension after being sent off against Paraguay last Saturday, his second dismissal in three international appearances.
Some reports said Basile had lost patience with the Manchester United forward and may leave him out of the squad even when his suspension is over.
The coach is also reported to have lost faith with Gabriel Heinze, taken off at halftime against Paraguay after scoring an own goal and dropped altogether against Peru.
Argentina's only consolation is that they are still on course for South Africa as they are third in the 10-team South American group, which reaches the halfway mark next month, with 13 points from eight games.
The top four qualify directly and the fifth plays off against a team from the CONCACAF region.
The bad news is that only three points separate them from sixth-placed Colombia, meaning that any more slip-ups could leave them out of the qualifying places.