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Eric Abidal returns for Barcelona after year out

Apr 7, 2013, 9:02 AM EDT

Eric Abidal AP

Another weekend, another big win for Barcelona – but their victory over Real Mallorca was far from routine thanks to a substitute appearance from Eric Abidal.

The 33-year-old French defender came off the bench in the 70th minute of a 5-0 Barca win for his first appearance since undergoing a liver transplant last April.

That surgery came after he had an operation to remove a liver tumor in March, 2011.

“It was a long [time out],” he told L’Equipe. “I really struggled. I received a lot of support through this year and this was the most important thing. From my wife, my parents, my friends, but also the fans of Barcelona too. Without them, I would not have returned to soccer.”

A return to full match fitness is a long way off for Abidal, but getting back on the pitch on Saturday was a huge step forward.

It comes days after head coach Tito Vilanova, only 44 years old himself, returned to the dug-out after two months in New York undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

Cesc Fabregas scored a hat-trick in the demolition of La Liga’s bottom club, which left Barcelona 13 points clear of Real Madrid at the head of the standings. Next up for the Catalans: Wednesday’s visit of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals, with the scores level at 2-2 after the first leg.

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