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Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010

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Not enough: Barcelona's David Villa kicks the ball during a Copa del Rey match against Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. The match ended in a scoreless draw, snapping Barca's 10-match win streak. AP PHOTO

Bilbao goes on defensive to snap Barca's winning streak

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Athletic Bilbao ended Barcelona's 10-game winning streak with a superb defensive performance in a scoreless draw Tuesday in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey.

Although it was the first time Barcelona had failed to score a goal in 22 games, the hosts did extend their unbeaten run to 23 matches.

With star Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente out with a pulled muscle, coach Joaquin Caparros deployed six midfielders and succeeded in smothering Barcelona's attack in the first leg at Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi and David Villa came on for Barcelona as early second-half substitutes but were unable to make an impact.

"It is a shame because we had been playing well," said Pedro Rodriguez, whose team outscored its opponents 42-4 in the 10 victories. "They defended well. It was difficult to find spaces and we lacked precision in our shots."

Heading into the Christmas break, Barcelona has 21 wins, two losses and four draws in all competitions and has outscored opponents 77-16.

Guardiola said his team had played many good matches in 2010, "but there are many intense months ahead with games against very strong rivals."

Also Tuesday, Valencia and Villarreal played to a 0-0 draw.

Bilbao's plan was clear: put 10 men behind the ball and hang on for the return leg at San Mames stadium.

"During these three years we have played against all types of systems," Guardiola said. "We are the ones that have to be able to attack well."

In the first half, Barcelona's attempts were reduced to a pair of rising strikes by Andres Iniesta that drew acrobatic saves from goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz.

Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez received a pass from Ander Iturraspe on the half-hour mark, but his header was easily saved by goalkeeper Jose Pinto.

"We were playing against the best team in the world," Caparros said. "You have to cut all their passing lanes, which is not easy. We . . . played well in the middle of the pitch."

Donovan stays put

CARSON , Calif. (AP) Landon Donovan is staying put this offseason, forgoing the chance to be loaned to a European club for the third straight winter.

Donovan scored two goals in 13 matches during a loan to Everton from last January to March, helping the Toffees beat Chelsea and Manchester United, and draw against Arsenal. Everton manager David Moyes appeared open to having the 28-year-old return.

"While I enjoyed my time at Everton last season and still appreciate all the support their fans have given me, I feel that it is important to continue to rest and recover this offseason as opposed to going on loan," Donovan said in a statement Tuesday. "I never considered being loaned to a club other than Everton, but I have been playing nearly nonstop for the past two years and I believe that this decision will allow me to perform at my best for the Galaxy and the national team throughout the upcoming year."

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