x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Eric Abidal's mountainous effort

The France defender has targeted Spain's visit to Paris for his international return, where he will face many of his Barcelona teammates, writes Andy Mitten.

Eric Abidal, right, played in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley. Franck Fife / AFP
Eric Abidal, right, played in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley. Franck Fife / AFP

Eric Abidal looked down from the 2,483 metre Pyrenean peak of Tuc de Salana on the border of Spain and France. Clouds filled the valley below like a snug duvet tucked in between the mountain peaks.

"Incredible," said the 33-year-old Barcelona and France defender, who is making a second comeback after his liver transplant in March. A cousin provided the donor liver tissue.

Abidal's first comeback last year followed an operation to remove a cancerous tumour from his liver.

He defied doctors by returning three months ahead of schedule to play for Barca in the 2011 Champions League final, where he was handed the captain's armband after the game at Wembley Stadium and invited to lift the Catalans' fourth European Cup.

His recovery was described as incredible, but earlier this year it was revealed he needed a transplant.

He now hopes to return by the end of this year and Barca's injury-hit defence could do with the elegant and versatile full-back.

Abidal spent last week building up his stamina and aerobic capacity with mountain walks under the supervision of Barca physios.

"Abi is incredible," said teammate Xavi. "I've never seem a human put himself through so much. He's an inspiration to us all."

Abidal has become a hero in France and Spain, but he was given a few days off to attend Spain's World Cup qualifier with France in Madrid on Tuesday, where he watched his compatriots hold many of his Barcelona teammates in the Spain side to a deserved 1-1 draw thanks to a 93rd minute equaliser from Oliver Giroud.

Spain had won their previous 24 consecutive qualifying games, but they looked nervy against the French and a share of the spoils was the deserved result from the Group I encounter.

The surprise result gives France an advantage, for Spain may need to win in the Stade de France in March's return leg to qualify automatically to go to Brazil to defend the title they won in South Africa two years ago.

If they do not, then they could face a play-off to achieve their place in South America.

Abidal, with 66 France appearances to his name, hopes to be playing in that one. His many friends in the Spain squad will not relish coming up against him, nor will they begrudge him playing after what he has been through.