For many players, making your international debut is an emotional occasion which sees you achieve something you have been working towards for most of your life. For Francesco Acerbi, it was more than that last night.
Over the past two years, Acerbi has twice beaten testicular cancer to return to football and play the game that he loves, so last night, pulling on the Italian jersey at the age of 26 was a very special occasion.
"With everything I went through, I am happy and proud, but I have objectives and when I've reached them I will be satisfied", Acerbi said. "What are they? I won't tell you".
Acerbi's career had seen him bounce around a few clubs in Italy, including AC Milan for a period, but it was only when he joined his current club Sassuolo in the summer of 2013 that they discovered the tumor in his testicles. He underwent surgery and soon returned to training but after failing a doping test, further investigations revealed that the cancer had returned, and he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
He underwent chemotherapy to treat the disease, and would regularly attend games and hardly missed a training session while he was receiving treatment, which meant that he not only became a big character in the squad, but also a fan favourite.
On his return, earlier this season against Parma, he scored a goal from a cross that was the exclamation point on a fantastic story which brought about scenes of joyous celebration with his team-mates, but it will surely be hard to top the moment when, last night, he was told to take off his track top and get ready to come on against Albania.
— Nazionale Italiana (@Vivo_Azzurro) November 18, 2014
Hopefully he'll go from strength to strength from here on out, and has provided a hugely inspirational story, as well as a cautionary tale for many men to make sure that they check themselves regularly.
Main pic via YouTube