Soccer-Barcelona and Athletic share spoils in goalless draw

Soccer Football - LaLiga - Athletic Bilbao v FC Barcelona - San Mames, Bilbao, Spain - March 3, 2024 FC Barcelona's Lamine Yamal in action with Athletic Bilbao's Imanol Garcia de Albeniz REUTERS/Vincent West

BILBAO (Reuters) -Champions Barcelona were left frustrated as they squandered a chance to close the gap with LaLiga leaders Real Madrid after being held to a lacklustre 0-0 draw at Athletic Club on Sunday.

With Real dropping points on Saturday following a 2-2 draw at Valencia, Barca were hoping to secure the win that would help them to close the gap with the pace setters and also enable them to leapfrog Girona into second place in the standings.

Instead, Sunday's stalemate meant they still trail Real by eight points and remain one-point adrift of surprise package Girona, who are on 59 after suffering a 1-0 loss at Mallorca earlier in the day.

Barca suffered two injury blows, with midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Pedri forced out in the first-half.

De Jong was carted off the field in the 26th minute after he landed awkwardly on his right foot following a challenge with a rival player.

Moments before halftime, Pedri left the pitch in tears after suffering what looked like a right leg injury.

It is the ninth leg muscle injury sustained by the 21-year-old midfielder since the end of the 2020-21 season.

"It is a sad day," Xavi told Movistar Plus.

"We'll know more about their injuries between today and tomorrow, but it doesn't look good. We were affected by that and I imagine that both will be out for several matches."

Barca's Joao Cancelo came closest to scoring in a tepid first half when his shot from near the halfway line arched over Athletic's goalkeeper but was cleared away by a defender.

The home side who were more aggressive following the interval, with Inaki Williams and Alex Berenguer a constant menace.

But they were frustrated by a solid Barca defence that withstood the late pressure to secure a point against an in-form team who are bidding for a top-four finish.

Athletic, who entered the contest on the back of a 10-match winning streak at home in all competitions, are fifth in the standings with 50 points, five behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas in Madrid, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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