La Liga

Barcelona held by Valencia in cup semi

Barca's Lionel Messi reacts to his missed penalty kick.
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP)

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Lionel Messi missed a penalty on Wednesday as Barcelona was held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Alves dived to his left to stop Messi's 56th-minute spot kick after Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara had been fouled inside the area.

Valencia made a better start at its Mestalla stadium and scored first when Jeremy Mathieu sent a pass between Barcelona defenders for Jonas to rifle the ball into the top corner of goal in the 27th.

The visitors equalized eight minutes later when Carles Puyol headed a corner past Diego Alves, who was caught out of position on Cesc Fabregas' inswinging cross.

Barcelona was lucky not to be reduced to 10 men when goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto raced to cut off Roberto Soldado and appeared to touch the ball outside of his area in the 18th minute.

The Spanish champions, who lost the domestic cup final to Real Madrid at the Mestalla in April, still hold the edge ahead of next Wednesday's return leg at the Camp Nou thanks to the away goal.

Messi had some early chances but, led by Pablo Piatti, Valencia exerted better control before Soldado volleyed over the bar in the 21st. A minute later, Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez rushed a shot on his wrong foot after a breakaway.

Valencia's best scoring opportunities originated from the left, with Jordi Alba sending Mathieu flying down the flank and the France winger passing perfectly between Puyol and Gerard Pique for Jonas to redirect the ball into the net.

Diego Alves did well to deny Sanchez after Isaac Cuenca's impressive dribble had given the Chile international a great chance, and Barcelona capitalized on the ensuing corner as Puyol caught the goalkeeper wandering to score his third goal of the season.

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Valencia fullback Miguel Brito gave away the spot kick, but Diego Alves refused to dive early to ensure Messi had a second penalty saved this season.

''You have to be patient,'' Alves said of how he stopped the three-time Ballon d'Or winner. ''I'm just glad I could help the team.''

Barcelona finally found its groove to have the better opportunities late on. Pique headed Messi's flicked-on cross over and substitute Daniel Alves went close on several occasions especially a cross-goal shot that came off the far post in the 73rd.

Messi, who has looked fatigued recently, pulled a stoppage-time attempt wide of the near post.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola accepted the European champions were lucky to escape with the draw.

Athletic Bilbao leads third-tier club Mirandes 2-1 in the other semifinal. The return leg is at San Mames on Tuesday.

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