Sergio Busquets had to wipe away the tears after reflecting on his experience of missing Spain's opening two Euro 2020 matches after testing positive for coronavirus.
The Barcelona midfielder was not part of Spain's squad for their Group E draws with Sweden or Poland after being made to self-isolate.
However, Busquets returned to the starting line-up for Wednesday's 5-0 win against Slovakia as Spain equalled the largest margin of victory in a European Championship game.
Own goals from Martin Dubravka and Juraj Kucka bookended strikes from Aymeric Laporte, Pablo Sarabia and Ferran Torres in La Roja's emphatic victory in Seville.
Spain are the fifth different side to win by five goals in the competition after France (1984), Denmark (1984), the Netherlands (2000) and Sweden (2004).
And the record-equalling win for Spain was a particularly emotional occasion for Busquets, who was named the official man of the match for his impressive midfield display.
"I'm excited to be here," he said through tears in his post-match interview. "I had a pretty bad time at home for 10 days not knowing if I would return or not.
"This result was what we needed. The fans were behind us and we played well from the beginning. We were so much stronger today and got the luck we didn't previously have.
"I accept the criticism we have faced, but not the lack of respect and more from people who have also been here."
Busquets won all three of his aerial duels against Slovakia, gained possession five times and played a joint-high two key passes.
He was taken off with around 20 minutes to play, but the midfielder put that down as a precautionary measure.
"I feel very well," he added. "Just before I was taken off I felt my calf a bit and the coach did not want to risk it.
"Hopefully now I can continue to accumulate minutes. Today is another step for me and now I'm prepared for anything that comes."
Spain needed a victory to guarantee a place in the last 16, where Croatia now await in Copenhagen next Monday, after being held by Sweden and Poland.
The victory for La Roja was their landmark 50th at major tournaments, making them the fourth European side to reach that milestone after Germany, Italy and France.
Sarabia, who scored the third of Spain's goals and assisted Torres' flicked finish, hopes his side can use the victory to build confidence in the knockout stages.
"We needed this to restore people's enthusiasm," he said. "The team played 20 very good minutes, with brutal intensity. We deserved the victory.
"We know the Croatia game will be difficult, but we also know the potential of this team."