Big-hearted friendly opens Barca’s post-Ney­mar era

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

BARCELONA — Barcelona eased into life without Ney­mar on Mon­day by hon­or­ing Chapecoense, the Brazil­ian side still reel­ing from a dev­as­tat­ing plane crash that killed 19 play­ers and 24 club of­fi­cials last year.

On an emo­tional night that saw Barca score a 5-0 friendly vic­tory, Chapecoense was cap­tained by Alan Ruschel, one of only three play­ers to sur­vive the crash, on his re­turn to ac­tion.

All pro­ceeds from the match will “help Chapecoense re­build in­sti­tu­tion­ally and re­cover the com­pet­i­tive level it had be­fore the tragedy”, Barca said in a state­ment.

Ruschel was joined by the two other sur­vivors, Ni­eto and Jak­son Foll­mann, from the squad that was on its way to face Atletico Na­cional in the fi­nal of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana when the air­craft crashed into the Colom­bian moun­tains on Nov 28 last year, killing 71 peo­ple.

Ni­eto and Foll­mann, who had his right leg am­pu­tated af­ter the crash, both broke down in tears as they were in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the hon­orary kick­off in front of a crowd of 65,000 at Camp Nou.

“I am filled with hap­pi­ness to be re­turn­ing to play,” Ruschel told Span­ish news­pa­per Marca.

“I am one of the hap­pi­est peo­ple in the world be­cause I am liv­ing some­thing al­most un­think­able. I con­sider my­self for­tu­nate to be in Spain, fac­ing Barcelona, play­ing in a sta­dium where I never thought I would be.”

Ruschel also got a sou­venir to sa­vor when he swapped shirts with five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi af­ter the match.

Ruschel was given the un­en­vi­able task of fac­ing up to Messi on his re­turn and de­spite the sen­ti­men­tal­ity of the oc­ca­sion, Barca didn’t let up once the match got un­der­way.

On a sport­ing level the Cata­lan gi­ant has had a tur­bu­lent week, with star Brazil­ian for­ward Ney­mar join­ing Paris Saint-Ger­main on Sun­day for a world-record $264 mil­lion trans­fer fee.

Barca is ex­pected to splash some of that cash in the com­ing weeks with a host of play­ers ru­mored to be on the radar to fill Ney­mar’s boots, in­clud­ing fel­low Brazil­ian Philippe Coutinho of Liver­pool and Ous­mane Dem­bele of Borus­sia Dort­mund.

Ger­ard Deulofeu made his case to at least keep his place in the lineup for Sun­day’s Span­ish Su­per Cup first leg against Real Madrid with a goal and two as­sists be­fore half­time.

The former Ever­ton winger opened the scor­ing with a tap-in af­ter neat work from Ivan Rakitic and his cut-back was then curled into the top cor­ner by Ser­gio Bus­quets to make it 2-0 in­side of 11 min­utes.

“It has been an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence; they de­serve to be here and have en­joyed this mar­velous day,” said Deulofeu.

“They are heroes. When I think about what hap­pened to them, I start to cry.”

Messi got his goal when he slot­ted home Deulofeu’s low cross be­fore Ruschel was given a stand­ing ova­tion as he was sub­sti­tuted af­ter 35 min­utes.

Barca un­der­stand­ably took its foot off the gas af­ter half­time, but Luis Suarez fi­nally man­aged to get his name on the score­sheet from Messi’s pass 10 min­utes af­ter the break be­fore De­nis Suarez rounded off the scor­ing.

MANU FER­NAN­DEZ / AP

From left: Chapecoense plane crash sur­vivors Jak­son Foll­mann, Ni­eto and Alan Ruschel get emo­tional prior to their friendly against Barcelona at Camp Nou on Mon­day.

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