Big names held in Copa del Rey
Barcelona were held to a goalless draw at home by Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie. Elsewhere in Spain, the local derby between Valencia and Villarreal also finished 0-0. The only one of the three cup ties played in Spain tonight to produce any goals was the clash between Segunda Division Cordoba and top-flight Deportivo La Coruna, who shared a 1-1 draw.
The match at the Nou Camp pitted the two most successful sides in Copa del Rey history against each other - Barça having 25 crowns to Athletic's 23 - and was a repeat of the 2009 final which the Catalan side won 4-1. Barcelona went into the encounter averaging more than four goals a game in winning their last ten successive fixtures, but they could not find even one breakthrough tonight despite playing most of their star names, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez starting and David Villa and Lionel Messi appearing as second-half substitutes.
Pep Guardiola's men dominated but Bojan Krkic and Iniesta were both denied by Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in the first half before Xavi volleyed a decent opening after the break and Villa had an effort ruled out. Gerard Pique then had a great chance right at the end to earn his side a narrow advantage to take to San Mames when Messi picked out his run into the box, but the Spain international volleyed wide with his less-favoured left foot and Athletic were able to congratulate themselves on a job well done.
Villarreal, Depor held at home
Further down the east coast of Spain at the Mestalla, hosts Valencia will also feel they should have built some sort of lead for their return leg against neighbours Villarreal. Unai Emery's side had the Yellow Submarine on the back foot for much of the game but Aritz Aduriz, Pablo Hernandez, Juan Manuel Mata - who hit the post - and Ricardo Costa failed to make the most of the chances that fell their way.
Villarreal, who are five points and one spot above fourth-placed Valencia in La Liga, had a few opportunities of their own, including a decent opening late on for Nilmar, who was denied by home custodian Vicente Guaita when clean through.
In tonight's other match, Cordoba - one of only two remaining non-top flight club left along with Real Betis - played out a 1-1 draw with Depor in testing conditions at a rain-drenched Estadio El Arcangel.
Depor took the lead with a 17th-minute penalty when Riki, who was adjudged to have been brought down by Cordoba goalkeeper Alberto Garcia, sent the home custodian the wrong way from the spot. However, Cordoba drew level 20 minutes from time when Depor goalkeeper Manu made a mess of trying to punch clear a Jonathan Sesma free-kick, allowing Pepe Diaz to tap the ball in at the near post.
The remaining five last-16 first legs will be played on Wednesday, with the return legs scheduled for the first week of 2010.