BARCELONA (Reuters) - Athletic Bilbao defender Yeray Alvarez made an emotional return to action against Barcelona on Saturday less than two months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The centre back’s impressive debut season was interrupted when Athletic announced on Dec. 23 he needed to undergo an operation to treat the disease, denying him the chance to face Barca in last month’s King’s Cup tie.
Barca players wore T-shirts with the message “Get Well Soon Yeray” in the first leg at Athletic’s San Mames stadium while supporters held a minute’s applause in the 27th minute to mark his shirt number.
The defender had made nine league starts and six in the Europa League before his operation in December, his last game coming in Athletic’s 2-1 win over Celta Vigo on Dec. 19.
He was named in the squad for last week’s 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon but remained on the bench while his chances of facing Barcelona were boosted when team mate Eneko Boveda sustained a muscle injury.
“It’s wonderful news for him, his team mates and everyone involved in football,” Barca coach Luis Enrique said on Friday.
“I hope he really enjoys the occasion.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond