– Down to the wire? –
The scramble for automatic qualifying spots promises to go down to the wire, with only two points separating second-placed Colombia (25 points) and fifth-placed Argentina (23 points).
Paraguay also thrust themselves into contention with arguably the performance of the day on Thursday, a 3-0 away win over Chile in Santiago.
The defeat capped a miserable 24 hours for Chile’s unsettled Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez.
Like Coutinho, Sanchez had also seen his hopes of a transfer evaporate on Thursday, with a mooted move to Manchester City stalling.
Sanchez barely featured in a disappointing display by the Chileans, who fell behind after midfield talisman Arturo Vidal scored a spectacular headed own goal in the first half to put Paraguay ahead.
Further goals from Victor Caceres and Richard Ortiz sealed a deserved win for Paraguay, who moved up to sixth spot with 21 points — just two points behind Argentina, who remain in fifth place.
Argentina meanwhile endured another frustrating outing after being held to a 0-0 draw by Uruguay in Montevideo.
Argentina dominated the early exchanges but their challenge fizzled out in a dreary second half display littered with fouls on both sides.
For Uruguay, the quicker-than-expected return of Luis Suarez — just two weeks after a knee injury — could not invigorate their attack.
Suarez authored one of Uruguay’s best chances late in the first half after Edinson Cavani pounced on an Argentina slip near halfway and passed to the Barcelona star.
Suarez looked up and attempted an audacious lob from 40 yards as Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero backpedalled, only for the ball to fly just over.
The draw means Uruguay remain in third place in the standings on 24 points, one behind second-placed Colombia, who were held to a 0-0 draw against already-eliminated Venezuela in San Cristobal.