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Argentina stays on top; Colombia, Ecuador closing

Associated Press Modified: September 11, 2012 at 11:47 pm •  Published: September 11, 2012

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina stayed atop South America's World Cup qualifying standings with a 1-1 draw against Peru on Tuesday, salvaging a point from a match the Gauchos deserved to lose.

Argentina has 14 points from seven matches but can't afford to relax as Colombia and Ecuador moved within a point. Colombia won 3-1 at ten-man Chile — four days after beating South American champion Uruguay 4-0 — and Ecuador drew 1-1 at Uruguay.

The big loser in Tuesday's games was Paraguay, which was beaten 2-0 at home by Venezuela. Paraguay reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup two years ago, but has only 4 points and is bottom of the standings. Venezuela, the only South American team never to have qualified for the World Cup, has 11 points and stayed in the mix.

The top four teams in South America advance automatically to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fifth-place team faces a playoff against a team from Asia. Five-time champion Brazil advances automatically as the host nation.

Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 37th minute to help Argentina scratch out the draw. Carlos Zamorano scored in the 22nd minute for Peru, which could have had at least one more goal. Argentina keeper Sergio Romero stopped Claudio Pizarro's penalty in the 3rd minute. Peru also hit a post and was always more threatening against Argentina's frail defense.

"We knew it was going to be like this," Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "This is a tough place to play and the pitch wasn't that good. Everyone wants to beat Argentina."

Peru matched Argentina in the first half, with the attacking of Jefferson Farfan and Luis Advincula troubling Argentina's defense. Lionel Messi was held in check and Peru was more aggressive, getting away with several rough tackles.

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