Gonzalo Higuain and Colombia's Christian Zapata were both sent off for kicking out at one another in the first half.
Natacha Pisarenko/AP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina remained five points clear atop the South American World Cup qualifying standings despite being held to a 0-0 home draw by Colombia on Friday.

Argentina improved to 25 points from 12 matches, comfortably clear of Colombia and Ecuador, who both have 20 points from 11 games.

Ecuador missed a chance to close the gap by losing 1-0 away to Peru.

Chile took sole possession of fourth place in the standings - the final automatic qualifying place for Brazil 2014 - by winning 2-1 at bottom team Paraguay while Venezuela is fifth after a 0-0 draw at Bolivia.

Argentina's top player Lionel Messi entered the game as a 57th minute substitute. The Barcelona star has an injured right hamstring muscle and missed the final three weeks of the Spanish league season.

Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain and Cristian Zapata of Colombia were sent off on straight red cards in the 26th for getting into a tussle.

"We had lots of possession and they had chances to score,'' said Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, describing an evenly played match.

Chile moved to outright fourth with a 2-1 win at struggling Paraguay.

Eduardo Vargas put the visitors ahead in the 41st minute and Juventus striker Arturo Vidal doubled the advantage in the 56th.

Experienced striker Roque Santa Cruz pulled back a goal for Paraguay in the 88th minute but the hosts could not find an equalizer. With only four qualifiers to play, Paraguay's chances of qualifying for Brazil seem all but over.

Venezuela would have stayed level on points with Chile but conceded a late equalizer to hosts Bolivia in their 1-1 draw in the thin air of La Paz.

Venezuela took a 1-0 lead through Juan Arango's goal in the 58th minute, but Bolivia's Jhasmany Campos hit the equalizer in the 86th.

Despite the disappointment of conceding a late equalizer, the away point boosted Venezuela's chances of securing at least fifth place, and the intercontinental playoff place for a spot at next year's World Cup.

Venezuela is the only South American team never to have played in football's main event.

Peru's veteran forward Claudio Pizarro scored in the 12th minute and the home team held that advantage for the rest of the game to beat Ecuador.

Peru moved up to sixth in the standings, two points behind Venezuela in the race for the all-important fifth place.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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