Villa: 'FIFA virus' not to blame for Barca slip

BARCELONA - Barcelona striker David Villa refused to blame the distraction of last Wednesday's international fixtures for the La Liga leaders' slip-up at Sporting Gijon on Saturday when they were held to a 1-1 draw.

The result gave second-placed Real Madrid a chance to cut the gap to five points with a win at Espanyol later on Sunday and came as Barca prepare to travel to London for Wednesday's Champions League last-16 clash against Arsenal.

It also ended the Catalan club's record 16-match winning run in La Liga.

"We did not notice the so-called FIFA virus," Villa, one of 13 internationals in the Barca squad, told reporters after he scored a late equaliser against his former club Gijon.

"We had to work extremely hard because of how well Sporting played, not because of any fault of ours," he added.

Gijon took a surprise lead in the 16th minute at the Molinon when poor defending from Gerard Pique and Gabriel Milito let striker David Barral in to rifle the ball past Victor Valdes.

Villa equalised with an exquisite chip 10 minutes from time but Barca were unable to convert sustained pressure on the home goal into a winner.

"It's a shame that we dropped these two points in Gijon, which were important for us," Valdes said. "Now we must focus on Europe."