Éric Abidal said he will never forget the reception that greeted his return to action two months after having a tumour removed, as FC Barcelona reached the UEFA Champions League final.
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After the singing and dancing had died down there were so many significant angles to FC Barcelona's qualification for their third UEFA Champions League final in six years that the objective eye was spoiled for choice.
Evidently vaulting over their historic rival, Real Madrid CF, to reach Wembley, a mythical location for all Blaugrana fans – after Johan Cruyff's 'dream team' beat UC Sampdoria there to win the 1992 European Champion Clubs' Cup for the first time – was special. But there was another Lionel Messi masterclass to savour and for Daniel Alves and Éric Abidal a chance to right a wrong: they were suspended for the 2009 final against Manchester United FC in Rome.
Life threw Abidal a more profound burden to deal with in March. He needed urgent surgery to remove a liver tumour and was not expected to play again this season. The enormous roar that greeted the Frenchman at the Camp Nou last night when he was sprinted on for the final three minutes was testimony to the love felt for him by the Catalan supporters; an appreciation of a triumph for the human spirit.
"The mix of all the emotions must always start with the fact that the team is through to the final," Abidal told UEFA.com. "But I have to admit that it was an exceptionally special day for me given all that I have been through. To be back and to be welcomed like that by the people who support the club I love is something I will never forget. This is my club, I always wanted to come here and I never want to leave."
Alves was similarly overwhelmed, as much by the manner of Barcelona's continued success than anything. "We put our faith in good football and football has paid us back for the favour we constantly do it," he said. "We play joyful football, we never opt for boring tactics and I think we are unique in that. We live football differently from every other club in the world.
"I guess football is giving me something back personally, too. I missed the last [final], but now we are back with another chance and perhaps this time I will have the chance to be part of it." That chance was all but assured the moment Pedro Rodríguez extended their aggregate advantage to 3-0 nine minutes after half-time following a glorious Andrés Iniesta pass. Marcelo pulled one back after escaping the attentions of Javier Mascherano, but it was too little too late.
It was only a minor blot on an otherwise excellent showing by stand-in centre-back Mascherano, who told UEFA.com that this kind of night was why he left Liverpool FC to join Barcelona. "I know from personal experience how hard it is to get to the Champions League final because I did it and lost with Liverpool. The feeling of doing it here is really good – it's why I wanted to come here."
Argentina team-mate Messi is another; admiring him from afar as the mercurial No10 valiantly led the line on Tuesday. "This was just another demonstration by Leo that he wears the crown and it's going to be very difficult for anyone to take it off him," said Mascherano. "He is making history and I think he is on course to prove he's the best of all time."