QUITO, Ecuador -- Argentina guaranteed itself of at least fifth place in South America's World Cup qualifying, and the resultant intercontinental playoff, by drawing 1-1 at Ecuador on Tuesday.
In other games, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile all notched key wins as the fight to qualify for Brazil 2014 moved toward its climax.
Tuesday's results meant Bolivia and Paraguay cannot finish in the top four and get automatic qualification for the World Cup, but mathematically both have a shot at the playoff-yielding fifth spot.
Argentina's Sergio Aguero opened the scoring in the thin air of Quito with a penalty in the fourth minute, but Segundo Castillo equalized for Ecuador with a header in the 17th.
Once again, Barcelona star Lionel Messi was restricted to being a substitute -- coming on for Argentina in the 60th minute -- as he recovers from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the end of the Spanish season.
Argentina improved to 26 points from 13 matches and appears certain to qualify for Brazil.
Ecuador is five points back, in joint third place with Chile but with four games to play, while Chile has three.
Colombia maintained second place in the group with 23 points from 12 games following a 2-0 home win over Peru.
Radamel Falcao and Teofilio Gutierrez scored for Colombia in the coastal city of Barranquilla. Falcao converted a penalty in the 13th minute and Gutierrez scored in first-half stoppage time.
Chile moved into the qualification zone with a 3-1 win at home against Bolivia.
Peru, which has only one point from six away games in this qualifying section, pulled a goal back in the 32nd minute through Marcelo Moreno and stayed in the contest until Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal netted the sealer deep into second-half stoppage time.
Peru has 14 points from 12 games, two behind Uruguay, which moved up into fifth with a 1-0 win at Venezuela, dropping the hosts down to sixth and with one fewer game to play.
Much-coveted Napoli striker Edison Cavani scored the sole goal in the 21st minute for Uruguay.
Venezula is the only South American team never to qualify for a World Cup.
The top four teams in the group advance automatically to the World Cup next year in Brazil, with the fifth-place team going into an intercontinental playoff for another spot.
Brazil qualifies automatically as the host nation.