City look to be heading out of the Champions League at the group stage for the second successive season after a damaging 2-2 draw with the Dutch champions at the Etihad Stadium. But after falling 2-0 down inside the first 17 minutes, Zabaleta feels encouragement can be taken from the way City hit back to almost snatch a much-needed Group D win.
"One of the positive points was that the team showed a very good spirit. It is not easy," the Argentina international said.
"At the start of the game we conceded two goals and the team did well. We showed spirit, tried to get back."
The match ended in controversy after Sergio Aguero had a late winner disallowed and Mario Balotelli was denied a penalty in injury time.
In chaotic scenes after the final whistle, Balotelli protested to referee Peter Rasmussen and manager Roberto Mancini came onto the pitch to remonstrate with the official.
It was feared Mancini might incur a touchline ban but European governing body UEFA confirmed no action would be taken after neither Rasmussen nor the match delegate reported the incident.
The result has left City bottom of their group and needing to beat Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and hope other scores go in their favour to reach the knockout stages.
"It was really important for us to get three points and we went to the referee to see why," Zabaleta said. "Everybody was angry. Roberto asked the referee why he didn't give the penalty or why there was a flag after the goal.
"I think when the manager can see you drop two points in a crucial game in the Champions League - he is very passionate."