BARCELONA midfielder Rafinha played through with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for 37 minutes of the La Liga draw with Atletico Madrid – and there is an extraordinary reason why.
The Brazil international came on as a half-time substitute for Sergi Roberto at the Wanda Metropolitano, but felt discomfort just 12 minutes into the second half.
Reuters6 Rafinha was injured just 12 minutes into his second half appearance
He played on for the full 90 minutes, including four minutes of stoppage time as Barca struck late to claim a point.
Ousmane Dembele netted in added-on time after Diego Costa had appeared to put Diego Simeone's men on course for victory, to secure the 1-1 draw.
The France international's calm finish came against the run of play – but the finish was overshadowed by Rafinha who played through the pain barrier to ensure his side avoided successive league defeats.
Rafinha is no stranger to serious injury; he suffered a similar injury in September 2015 in his right knee and underwent meniscus surgery at the start of last season.
most read in barcelonaCell-fie with Suarez Stem cell treatment will help Barcelona star Suarez recover quicker Nou name Barcelona set to announce £355m deal to rename Nou Camp amid stunning renovation UN-GUARD-ED Cringeworthy clip reveals Pep Guardiola dad-dancing 20 years ago messi-merising Fans in awe of Messi's new trick as new footage confirms it was deliberate GossipNeym Game PSG will let Neymar rejoin Barcelona for £178m – £22m less than they paid for him Inter the mire What must Tottenham do against Inter Milan to stay in the Champions League? MOUR HATRED Iniesta attacks Mourinho for dividing Spain team and encouraging hate in squad
Reuters6 The Brazilian suffered a similar problem three years ago
And it is the rehab he has undergone in the wake of those injuries which had conditioned Rafinha's body to cope with another serious injury.
Daily sessions with a physiotherapist and physical trainer have helped strengthen his legs, while a strict diet has also played a role in the 25-year-old reaching the shape of his career.
This off-the-field work allowed Rafinha to manager the injury at Atletico, which he originally thought was a minor knock.
It was not until the following day when tests revealed the extent of the problem.
Reuters6 Dembele netted in stoppage time to give Barcelona a point
He now faces another bout of surgery and is expected to miss the rest of the 2018-19 campaign.
He wrote on Twitter: “Who is more ready than I am. I’ve been through something similar before and I’ll get over it as many times as needed.
"That’s life and what made me who I am now. It’s hard to assume it, specially after so many efforts and what I fought for.
"But I accept it and like always. I’ll be back stronger than ever.
— Rafinha Alcantara (@Rafinha) November 26, 2018
EPA6 Costa's opener had put Atletico on course for victory
“I would also like to send my deepest support to my teammates, wishing then all the best for the rest of the season.
"There is no doubt you are gonna nail it!
“Last but not least, let me thank you for all your kind messages and nice words.
"I feel very lucky and almost speechless; very thankful to receive all your support! God bless you all.”
AFP OR LICENSORS6 Suarez also picked up an injury during the 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano
The injury all-but ends any hope of Rafinha leaving the Nou Camp in the January transfer window, as had been suggested by his father.
He spent the second half of last season on loan at Inter Milan and reports of a possible return to Italy with Roma had surfaced in the lead up to the game.
However he will remain with Barca for treatment and will resume his battle to become first choice under Ernesto Valverde from next season.
The news sees Barcelona's injury list swell to six.
EPA6 Barcelona have endured a traumatic campaign despite being a point off the top
Sergi Roberto, Luis Suarez, Sergi Samper, Jasper Cillessen and Arthur are all on the sidelines currently for the La Liga champions during what has been an inconsistent season.
Back-to-back wins either side of the international break sees Sevilla top of the table, one point ahead of Barcelona who have an identical lead over third-place Atletico.