Lionel Messi's recent goal spree came to an abrupt halt in Argentina's uninspiring 1-1 draw against Peru as Colombia came out on top in the latest round of South American World Cup qualifiers that concluded on Tuesday.
Argentina lead the nine-nation group ahead of Colombia and Ecuador but only three points separate the top six teams with the series set to reach its halfway mark next month.
Peru laid bare the failings in Argentina's rearguard that their brilliant forwards often disguise in tricky conditions at the Estadio Nacional in Lima.Gonzalo Higuain's fine equaliser was one of the few Argentina highlights in a performance that also featured Sergio Romero's early penalty save from Claudio Pizarro.
Messi was almost unrecognisable as the world's best player, softened by a series of early fouls but not subjected to the aggressive man-marking Diego Maradona endured in a 1-0 defeat in the Peru capital 27 years ago.
He was kept in check by Peru's heavily populated midfield, which still found space to carry danger to Argentina with defender Carlos Zambrano scoring in the 22nd minute and Luis Ramirez hitting the post in the second half.
Colombia, with strikers Radamel Falcao and Teo Gutierrez scoring three goals apiece in two matches, followed their 4-0 rout of Uruguay on Friday with Tuesday's 3-1 away victory over an accomplished Chile side in Santiago.
Ecuador, trained by former Honduras World Cup coach Reinaldo Rueda, picked up a good point with a 1-1 draw at Uruguay, who were thrashed by Colombia in Barranquilla on Friday.
The team that came off worst were Paraguay, accustomed to doing well enough to have reached four successive finals but now rooted to the bottom of the standings after losing to Argentina and then 2-0 to Venezuela in Asuncion on Tuesday.
Argentina have 14 points, Colombia and Ecuador 13, Uruguay and Chile 12 and Venezuela, looking to reach their first finals, 11.
At the end of the marathon campaign, the top four will qualify for the 2014 finals and the fifth-placed team plays off against an Asian nation for a berth in Brazil.