MADRID, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Barcelona were held to a goalless draw at Villarreal in the first leg of their King's Cup quarter-final on Thursday.
Earlier, Racing Santander took a step towards their first appearance in the last four with a 2-0 home win over 23-times winners Athletic Bilbao.
Barca's Victor Valdes was the busier of the two goalkeepers in a tight first half at the Madrigal, pulling off full-stretch saves to deny Giuseppe Rossi and Nihat Kahveci.
The home side, who beat Barca 3-1 in the league in October, had been more incisive in the final third and coach Frank Rijkaard turned to Argentine Lionel Messi to pep up his attack after the break.
Barca improved and Andres Iniesta had a fierce drive turned round the post and was denied in a one-on-one as they penned Villarreal back.
But it was Valdes who made the final intervention getting down quickly to block Nihat's low shot from a free kick in the last minute.
Racing dominated a high-tempo encounter at the Sardinero but did not make the breakthrough until the 75th minute when Mohamed Tchite looped in a header.
Ebi Smolarek added a second four minutes later, though television replays showed he was in an off-side position when he tapped in Pablo Alvarez's cross-cum-shot.
The other two ties were played on Wednesday, when Valencia and last season's runners-up Getafe both earned 1-0 home wins against Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca respectively.
The return legs are scheduled for next week.