Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has been cleared to make his return to action against Osasuna on Saturday after a seven-month absence following two knee operations.
The 35-year-old missed the final few months of last season after first going under the knife in March and his comeback was delayed by a second operation to remove a cyst from the same knee in June.
"I am very happy to be able to be in the squad after a number of months," Puyol wrote on his Facebook page. "Thank you to everyone for your love during this time."
The news was understandably also welcomed by Barça coach Gerardo Martino with the Catalans facing seven games in the next 23 days. "It is great news for everyone, especially for him after so long out," he told a press conference on Friday.
"When I name a player in the squad it is because I see them as ready to play. We will see if he plays or not, but he is ready to. He is very excited to be with the rest of the team and, for someone with his career, that makes me very enthusiastic."
Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano have also been passed fit after overcoming the muscular injuries that kept them out of Argentina's final two FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers last week. And the return of Puyol and Mascherano is particularly important as Gerard Pique had been struggling with an adductor muscle problem he aggravated whilst on international duty with Spain.
Pique has been left out of Martino's 18-man squad for the trip to Pamplona, along with Alexis Sanchez and Dani Alves, but the Argentine insisted he was merely giving the 26-year-old a break ahead of a hectic week for the Catalans.
Barça travel to face AC Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday before hosting Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season next weekend. "He had a problem which already affected him against Valladolid and he didn't finish the game," Martino said.
"Against Belarus you could see he was suffering, but after playing against Georgia he told me he was better. He has not been left out because he is injured, but to rest. He could have played tomorrow without any problem."
Barcelona could equal the Spanish league record with a ninth consecutive win to start the campaign with victory in Pamplona. And Martino insists they will be fully concentrated on the Osasuna clash before turning their attention to Milan and Madrid.
"For a team like Barcelona when you are left with practically five players for two weeks, the first game after the international break is very important," he said. "We are completely concentrated on Osasuna, on the difficulties that they are going to create for us and after the game we can start to think of what is to come."