Abidal eyes the final after his cancer scare

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After all that had taken place before it, the fact that an 89th-minute substitution became the moment of the night at the Nou Camp on Tuesday is a measure of Eric Abidal's incredible story this season.

The Frenchman's introduction for Carles Puyol with one minute left was cheered like a second Barcelona goal. And the manner of his introduction – a sprint across the pitch to the far touchline to take the very throw-in that had allowed play to stop for the change – was indicative of the spirit he has shown over the last two months.

There was no time to waste when Barcelona doctors discovered a 4cm-long tumour in his liver on 15 March. He underwent a three-hour operation two days later and was back on the pitch in a Champions League semi-final seven weeks later.

When he said goodbye to team-mates in an emotional send-off before the operation he joked that he would be available for selection the following weekend. But most team-mates contented themselves with the prognosis that he was likely to make a full recovery and return next season.

The final could easily have been dedicated to the absent Frenchman but it turns out he will be at Wembley on 28 May. "He has told us he is ready to help," said the Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, buckling under the club's never-ending defensive injury problems, before the semi-final second leg with Real Madrid. "He has lost a lot of weight but he is very, very strong and fit enough to play 15 or 20 minutes."

With over three weeks between now and the final, Abidal has every chance of playing a big part and even starting the match at Wembley. At every game since his operation Barcelona supporters have sung his name in the 22nd minute.

Barcelona's No 22 had already endeared himself to them with the fantastic way he has played.

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