Argentina and Colombia both finished with 10 men after a stormy 0-0 draw in South American qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup on Friday.

The Argentinians had striker Gonzalo Higuain sent off after a clash with Colombia's Cristian Zapata midway through the first half and also saw two second-half goals from Sergio Aguero disallowed for offside.

Venezuelan referee Marlon Escalante was escorted from the field at the whistle after a bruising contest which saw the home side's players and coaching staff protest furiously after the second of Aguero's two efforts was ruled out.

Argentina, who lead the standings by five points and remain on course for an automatic qualifying berth with four games left to play, started a gripping contest at the Monumental Stadium with skipper Lionel Messi on the bench.

The Barcelona star, who is nursing himself back to fitness after a hamstring injury, was eventually brought on early in the second half but was unable to break the deadlock for Argentina against a fiercely committed Colombian outfit.

Colombia, who moved up to second ahead of Ecuador on goal difference, were well worth a point but Argentina will feel aggrieved after Aguero's second disallowed effort, which appeared to have been wrongly adjudged offside.

A breathless opening 45 minutes saw both sides carve out a series of chances, with Argentina setting the pace before Colombia gained a foothold.

The frenetic pace saw players from both sides flying into some full-blooded challenges, and tensions boiled over on 26 minutes when Higuain and Zapata were given their marching orders.

Zapata saw red after appearing to lash out with a boot in retaliation for a sly kick by Higuain at the back of the defender's legs as he thwarted the Argentinian.

It was a sour note to a compelling first half, which had seen Argentina repeatedly threaten the Colombian goal early on only to be denied by some phenomenal saves from the visiting goalkeeper David Ospina.

Ospina needed to be alert on 13 minutes when Real Madrid star Angel Di Maria rifled in an angled volley from the edge of the area which the Colombian keeper gathered.

Moments later Colombia should have taken the lead when Napoli's Juan Zuniga burst down the right and crossed for Radamel Falcao.

Falcao, who recently signed for French side Monaco in a deal reported to be worth around 60 million euros ($77 million), had time and space but could only screw his header wide from close-range.

Three minutes later and Argentina were left wondering how they had not taken the lead after a stunning double save from Ospina.

Higuain pounced on a slip to shoot from close range but Ospina blocked. The rebound fell to Marcos Rojo, but Ospina somehow managed to tip the Sporting Lisbon defender's header onto the bar as Colombia escaped.

Colombia had the ball in the net on 20 minutes but Jackson Martinez's effort was correctly adjudged to be offside.

The frenzied pace continued after the sendings off of Higuain and Zapata but not even the introduction of Messi could tip the contest Argentina's way.

Aguero's had the ball in the net on 54 minutes but was flagged for a fractional offside. However the Manchester City star looked to have been hard done by on 72 minutes when he scrambled in from close range.

Argentina's players and backroom staff surrounded the referees assistant but the match officials held firm.

In Friday's early game, Venezuela were denied a precious victory against Bolivia in La Paz after Jhasmani Campos's late equaliser cancelled out Juan Arango's goal for the visitors as the game finished 1-1.

In Asuncion, Paraguay's hopes of qualification were all but extinguished as they lost 2-0 to Chile to remain rooted to the foot of the table.

Goals from Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal handed maximum points to Chile, who now lie fourth in the table.

In Lima, Peru breathed life into their qualification hopes after Claudio Pizzaro's 12th-minute strike sealed a 1-0 win over third-placed Ecuador.

The win saw Peru move to sixth spot in the table, two points behind fifth-placd Venezuela with a game in hand.

The top four finishers in South America's qualifying group are granted automatic berths to Brazil 2014, with the fifth placed side entering a play-off against their Asian counterpart.