Eric Abidal returned to football Saturday, a year after receiving a liver transplant. It almost goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway. The occasion was cause for heartfelt joy and an outpouring of emotion at FC Barcelona.
The match itself, a home date for Barca against Mallorca, ended in a 5-0 victory for the hosts. Cesc Fabregas, playing in Lionel Messi's "false nine" role while Messi recovers from a hamstring injury, scored his first career hat-trick, and Alexis Sanchez added two goals.
Abidal, a 33-year-old French defender, entered as a 70th-minute substitute for Gerard Pique. It was Abidal's first appearance in 402 days (via Sky Sports), and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Video of Abidal's introduction appears below. His individual highlights can be seen here (h/t 101 Great Goals).
Abidal received a liver transplant last April. The donor was his cousin Gerard (via FIFA.com). In March 2011, he had an operation to remove a tumor from the liver.
"Football is my life and I didn’t want to finish without playing again," Abidal told Barca TV. "I didn’t want to leave like that and I fought to come back”
He most certainly did that, and because of that, Abidal is now an inspiration. Sanchez dedicated his second goal to Abidal (video at right), and after the match support poured in from across the globe.
"It was a special day," Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura said (via Sky Sports). "We were able to witness Eric Abidal's return and, after many days, Tito Vilanova once again sat on the bench at the Camp Nou."
Vilanova added: "It was a special moment for the whole team. We know that Eric is very much loved by everyone. Personally, I'm very happy and pleased."
Below are some of the best reactions from Twitter.
Barcelona's next game is Wednesday at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.