Eric Abidal returns for Barcelona
Eric Abidal completed his long road back from a liver transplant on Saturday when he played his first minutes for Barcelona.
Abidal received a standing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd when he went on for Gerard Pique in the 70th minute with Barcelona cruising to a 5-0 win over Mallorca.
His last appearance for Barcelona was on Feb. 26, 2012, before doctors determined that he needed a transplant. That came after Abidal had already come back from the removal of a liver tumor in March 2011.
The 33-year-old France defender received a part of his cousin's liver in an operation in a Barcelona hospital on April 11, 2012.
After Saturday's Spanish league game, Abidal revealed a T-shirt under his playing uniform that read "Thanks My Cousin. Number 13."
"It was a special moment for me after a year," Abidal said. "Thanks to my cousin. Without him I wouldn't be here today."
He also thanked his friends, family, fans, and "the people I met at the hospital."
Abidal was cleared to play in February and played a game with Barcelona's reserve team last month.
He has helped Barcelona win various titles in his six seasons with the club, including two Champions League crowns and three Spanish leagues.
With Barcelona 13 points clear and just eight games to go, Abidal is set to add another league title to his list. Barcelona also faces a decisive Champions League match on Tuesday against Paris Saint-Germain with their quarterfinal poised at 2-2.
The home fans burst into applause when Abidal put on the warm-up bib and started jogging along the touchline in the 56th, and then took to their feet to cheer his return to the pitch. They also gave a collective cheer when he touched the ball for the first time.
"It was incredible," said Cesc Fabregas, who scored a hat trick in the win. "We saw how nervous he was on the bench. At first he couldn't even find his warm-up bib.
"It's impossible to put yourself in another person's skin, but we know how much he fought to get here."
Abidal said he hoped his return to the playing field would inspire others who face the same medical problem.
"Fight. Never stop fighting," Abidal said. "There is always hope."