Leaps and bounds

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

South Amer­i­can soc­cer con­fed­er­a­tion CON­MEBOL on Mon­day agreed to award the Copa Su­damer­i­cana to Brazil­ian club Chapecoense, the team that was all but wiped out in a plane crash en route to the fi­nal.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the crash is still be­ing con­ducted.

The gov­ern­ing body an­nounced the post­hu­mous honor to the pre­vi­ously un­sung club, which was hav­ing a fairy­tale sea­son un­til the dis­as­ter a week ago.

Chapecoense vice-pres­i­dent Ivan Tozzo hailed the de­ci­sion as “jus­tice”.

“We were sure that Chape would be cham­pion. It is a beau­ti­ful trib­ute,” he said.

The char­ter plane fly­ing the team to the big­gest match in its his­tory ran out of fuel and crashed into moun­tains in north­west­ern Colom­bia.

A to­tal of 71 peo­ple died in the crash — in­clud­ing 19 of the club’s play­ers and staff.

Three play­ers, two crew mem­bers and a jour­nal­ist sur­vived.

The team was head­ing to play the first leg of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal against Colom­bian club Atletico Na­cional in the city of Medellin.

Fair play

Na­cional re­sponded to the crash by call­ing for Chapecoense to be granted the Copa Su­damer­i­cana, the sec­ond most pres­ti­gious club ti­tle in South Amer­ica.

The con­fed­er­a­tion, which is based near Paraguay’s cap­i­tal Asuncion, said it heeded Na­cional’s re­quest to hand the cup to Chapecoense.

“CON­MEBOL awards the ti­tle for the 2016 Copa Su­damer­i­cana cham­pi­onship to Chapecoense,” the con­fed­er­a­tion said in a state­ment.

The ti­tle in­cludes $2 mil­lion in prize money.

CON­MEBOL awarded Na­cional its $1 mil­lion Cen­te­nary Fair Play award.

“There is no greater demon­stra­tion of the spirit of un­der­stand­ing and fair play ... than the con­sid­er­a­tion and re­spect shown by Atletico Na­cional to its broth­ers in Chapecoense Foot­ball Club,” the state­ment added.

Start­ing from scratch

The small city of Chapeco held a mas­sive fu­neral for its team on Satur­day af­ter the vic­tims’ coffins ar­rived home, each draped in the club’s green and white flag.

A minute’s si­lence for the team will be held be­fore every Cham­pi­ons League and Europa League game this week.

Mean­while, Chapeco awoke to the steep task of re­build­ing a top-flight team from vir­tu­ally noth­ing.

“We have lost prac­ti­cally all our as­sets,” said Tozzo.

He has taken over from pres­i­dent San­dro Pal­laoro, who died in the crash.

“Af­ter ev­ery­thing we have achieved, now we have to start again from scratch,” Tozzo said.

“We will have to start to think, be­cause we do not have 11 play­ers to put on the field.

“We will need a great deal of help from the Brazil­ian Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion and the broad­caster Globo (which owns the rights to screen the matches),” he added.

In­clud­ing the ti­tle award and win­nings from ear­lier rounds, Chapecoense will take home just un­der $4 mil­lion from the tour­na­ment.

By tak­ing the Su­damer­i­cana ti­tle, Chapecoense will be al­lowed to com­pete in next sea­son’s Copa Lib­er­ta­dores, the re­gion’s top club tour­na­ment.

It will also face Atletico Na­cional in the Re­copa Su­damer­i­cana, a match be­tween the Su­damer­i­cana and Lib­er­ta­dores cham­pi­ons.

New mem­bers

Chapecoense said 13,000 peo­ple had ap­plied in just two days for mem­ber­ship in the club, which pre­vi­ously had 9,000 mem­bers.

Other Brazil­ian soc­cer teams have of­fered to loan out their play­ers to Chapecoense.

Ten of the team’s play­ers did not travel on the doomed flight, and the club also has an un­der-20 squad with po­ten­tial new se­nior play­ers.

Torino, which won five Ital­ian top-flight league ti­tles in the 1940s, took three decades to win an­other tro­phy again from an air crash that killed 18 of its play­ers in 1949.

In Eng­land, Manch­ester United waited a decade to re­cover fol­low­ing the 1958 Mu­nich air dis­as­ter that killed 23 peo­ple, in­clud­ing eight of its play­ers. The doomed flight took off un­der icy con­di­tions.

United won the 1968 Euro­pean Cup.

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