Guardiola defends players after draw

MADRID - Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola refused to criticise his players after the La Liga leaders were held to a 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon on Saturday ending their record run of 16 straight league wins.

The result gives second-placed Real Madrid a chance to cut the gap to five points with a win at Espanyol on Sunday but Guardiola praised his team's achievement in fighting back from a goal down to rescue a point.

"We did not win but we tried everything to achieve it," the former Barca and Spain midfielder, who this week extended his contract until the end of next season, told a news conference.

"We can lose or draw if we do it like this. Pressing, pressing and pressing," he added. "It's not easy attacking when you are faced with 10 players behind the ball."

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.

David Villa equalised against his former club with a superb chip 10 minutes from time but Barca were unable to convert sustained pressure on the home goal into a winner.

Guardiola praised the tactics employed by his Gijon counterpart Manuel Preciado and rejected the suggestion this week's international fixtures were an unwelcome distraction.

"It's not the fault of the national teams," he said. "At Barca you have to know how to compete every three days and these players have shown they can do it millions of times."