Cagliari defender Fabio Pisacane could not hold back the tears after making his Serie A debut in the 3-0 win over Atalanta, 15 years after being told he may not walk again, let alone play football.
Pisacane, 30, started the game and played 79 minutes before being substituted and he was unable to control his emotions postmatch.
"From when I found out on Thursday or Friday that I might play, all of those bad moments came into my mind again," Pisacane told Videolina. "I've been thinking night and day for four months about this moment, of all the problems I've been through, but I never gave up. I never gave up for a second. My God, I can't -- I can't do this [interview]."
- Cagliari Calcio (@CagliariCalcio) September 18, 2016
Pisacane appeared to have a promising career ahead when, at the age of 14, he was spotted by scouts of Genoa and taken into the Ligurian club's youth academy. But he was struck by a rare paralysing illness known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, unable to move any muscle in his body.
"One day I woke up paralysed from head to foot. I only realised how serious it was when I found myself in a hospital bed and the diagnosis was terrible," Pisacane added. "From the hopes of realising the dream I had as a child, I was instead faced with the most difficult game of my life.
"At that moment, I didn't even think of the fact that maybe I wouldn't play football again. All of my efforts and my hopes were focused on fighting for something even more precious -- to live."
Pisacane's father Andrea said doctors told him he would "never play football again, although that was the last thing we cared about at that moment."
After spending a period in a coma, Pisacane slowly managed to get back on his feet and returned to the football field. Via spells with Ravenna, Cremonese, Lanciano, Lumezzane, Ancona, Ternana and Avellino, he worked his way up from Italy's third division to make his top-flight debut for Cagliari on Sunday.
His route there was riddled with obstacles, however, and he mastered the next by not only refusing an approach to fix a game, when he was offered €50,000 -- a significant sum to fix just one game, considering he was earning just twice as much annually -- but by reporting the approach to the authorities.
For that, he was named by FIFA as an ambassador of football and, together with Simone Farina, who also reported a match-fixing attempt, spent time training with the Italy national team as recognition and reward of their honesty and bravery.
- Cagliari Calcio (@CagliariCalcio) September 19, 2016
A serious knee injury soon after did not stop him either as he continued to pursue a dream nobody had given him any chance of realising, until Sunday.
"I had tried not to think about it this last week, but my mind kept taking me back 10-11 years," he said. "There were a load of emotions which fortunately I was able to control. I'd dreamt of this game for a long time, and I've made it.
"Now I need to keep my feet on the ground and keep working as I have done up to today. If then you add that we won the game, I truly could not have asked for any more than this. I want to thank everybody, starting from my parents to my wife, who have supported me every day, and my son, who gives me immense strength.
"I won't forget [Cagliari coach] Massimo Rastelli either. He's a great man -- one of those who keeps his promises."