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By ESPN Staff

Barca's Pedro hails battling Atheltic

Barcelona winger Pedro praised the defensive work of Athletic Bilbao after the Basque outfit succeeded where so many have failed by nullifying Pep Guardiola's prolific side in Tuesday's Copa del Rey clash.

• Copa del Rey review

Pedro also conceded after the goalless draw that his side will not have it easy in the return leg at San Mames as they look for a place in the quarter-finals.

Barca went into the last-16 first leg at the Nou Camp having won their previous 10 competitive outings while averaging more than four goals per game.

However, the Catalan giants could not find the breakthrough despite dominating against a hard-working Athletic side and now have work to do in the return.

"They played a great game. They defended very well, very together," Pedro said. "For the strikers we don't like these games because they close up shop at the back. It's a shame not to have got the victory.''

Looking ahead to the return at La Catedral, which has not been an easy place to get anything from for visiting teams down the years, Pedro said: "They are very strong at home.

"We have to go to San Mames, a difficult ground, and we have to think of getting the victory that will put us through to the next round. We have to go there with a winning mentality and get a good result.''

Midfielder Andres Iniesta added on his club's website: "We'll go there looking to play a good game while knowing that Athletic are a difficult opponent, especially at their ground.

"We had control of the game but they defended well. When a team tries their hardest to win and doesn't, that's football. We still have all the hope in the world of getting through to the next round.''

Defender Dani Alves added: "There are days when the ball doesn't want to go in. (But) we still have the same chance of getting through the tie. We will have to make a great effort because it will be difficult there at San Mames.''

Despite the draw, Barca have plenty of positives to reflect on as they go into the Christmas break. The reigning Spanish champions are unbeaten in 23 matches, of which 19 have been won, while they boast a two-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Division.

Alves said: "We have finished the year in exceptional form. This result will not take away what we've done up until now. We ask that next year will be just as good.''

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