Champions League - Abidal moved by gesture

Sun, 29 May 10:48:00 2011

Eric Abidal was stunned with gratitude after Barcelona captain Carles Puyol invited him to lift the Champions League trophy and cap a triumphant return from illness at Wembley on Saturday.

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Puyol made the gesture to his team mate at the end of their 3-1 win over Manchester United, clearing the way for the Frenchman to take the honour following his return to the side after having a liver tumour removed.

"I can't explain the emotions I have," Abidal told reporters. "It's spectacular. I'm so thankful for the gesture."

Barca were shocked in March when Abidal, who had been in imperious form, was diagnosed with a liver tumour.

After undergoing surgery to have the tumour removed, the 31-year-old returned as a late substitute to a rapturous reception in the Champions League semi-final second leg at the Nou Camp at the start of this month, when Barca secured a 3-1 aggregate win over Real Madrid.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola also praised his captain for a gesture he described as making the club stronger.

"I want to thank Carles publicly for the gesture," he said. "It honours the club and makes us stronger. It's another demonstration of the sort of club I understand we are and demonstrates the human qualities of the dressing room."

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi played down his magical Champions League final performance after helping Barcelona cement their status as the greatest team of their era against Manchester United at Wembley.

He said: "To be the man of the match is the least important thing, because it was incredible how we played. We were very good in all areas. We're very happy to lift another trophy. It was a difficult season but we showed who we are. We were the better team."

Messi's 12th goal of this season's competition equalled Ruud van Nistelrooy's Champions League record and team-mate Xavi said: "He is the number one, he makes the difference - he is just the best player in the world."

Midfielder Sergio Busquets described it as an "almost perfect game" by Barca, who repeated their 2009 triumph over United. As in Rome two years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson's men were unable to maintain a blistering start to the game, while a late rally also came to nought.

Busquets said: "We suffered a bit at the beginning, and at the end, but by then the match was already decided. I think it was an almost perfect game - we had lots of possession and moved the ball very well. Thanks to that we managed to win."

Barca's win came at the scene of their first European Cup triumph 19 years earlier. David Villa, who killed the contest with more than 20 minutes remaining with a wonderful 25-yard curler, said: "I couldn't be happier. It's a fantastic result for us in what is such an important stadium in our club's history. We were full of ambition and wanted to take full advantage of this era with all the great players we have. When we went 3-1 up, it meant we could play calmly. It's now time to celebrate with all my family."

Reuters / PA Sport

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