Plane crash kills dream of foot­ball team that de­fied odds

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Trav­el­ing on the doomed air­liner that crashed in Colom­bia overnight were the play­ers and staff of a Brazil­ian foot­ball club about to com­plete a fairy­tale jour­ney from un­knowns to would-be South Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons.

The LAMIA char­ter plane went down near Medellin late Mon­day with 81 peo­ple aboard and so far only six are re­ported to have sur­vived. At least two were said by of­fi­cials to be foot­ball play­ers. For the Chapecoense Real team the dis­as­ter means the cruel end of a story that had been meant to cli­max with an un­ex­pected chance for glory to­day against Colom­bia’s Atletico Na­cional in the first leg of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal.

“The pain is ter­ri­ble. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have na­tional promi­nence, a tragedy like this hap­pens. It is very dif­fi­cult, a very great tragedy,” club vi­cepres­i­dent Ivan Tozzo told SporTV.

Only a few years ago Chapecoense was just an­other a gritty out­fit in the Brazil­ian lower leagues, where play­ers, un­able to af­ford cars, took the bus to train­ing. The sta­dium in Chapeco, a city of 200,000 peo­ple in the south­ern Santa Cata­rina state, didn’t have a gym.

The steep climb from min­now to con­tender started in 2009 when Chapecoense en­tered the fourth di­vi­sion. Back then, the team’s top goalscorer Bruno Ran­gel told Brazil­ian news­pa­per Lance, even the club’s bus was “was very old.”

“But a lot has changed in the club since I ar­rived,” he said. “There are still prej­u­dices against the club but more be­cause we’re from the (coun­try’s) in­te­rior. That’s di­min­ish­ing, it’s true. Ev­ery day we’re more re­spected.”

By 2014 the club had fought its way into the lower half of the elite ta­ble, but the side wanted more. Even at this point Chapecoense was al­most ig­nored by its own pub­lic, with only about 7,000 peo­ple turn­ing up to home games, ac­cord­ing to Globoe­s­porte web­site.


Chapecoense en­tered the run­ning for the Copa Su­damer­i­cana for the first time in 2015 and didn’t dis­ap­point.

In the club’s first ever in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment, the one-time un­knowns didn’t go all the way, but they per­formed bravely, even de­feat­ing Ar­gentina’s famed River Plate club.

This year, things seemed to be go­ing wrong. The coach cred­ited with Chapecoense’s mirac­u­lous rise, Guto Fer­reira, walked out and his re­place­ment Caio Ju­nior lost his first game against the lowly Cuiaba.

But the lit­tle team that could roared back, tak­ing down Ar­gentina’s In­de­pen­di­ente and Ju­nior de Bar­ran­quilla. They were go­ing to the fi­nal to meet the reign­ing Copa Lib­er­ta­dores cham­pi­ons Atletico Na­cional and no one would write them off any­more.

On the way to Colom­bia, the team stopped off in Sao Paulo to play the penul­ti­mate game of Brazil’s do­mes­tic league. Here they lost against Palmeiras, the team which ended the sea­son as Brazil­ian cham­pion. But there was a sense that the play­ers had their minds on the big­ger chal­lenge await­ing them against Atletico.

“I see this is a group of win­ners. It’s as if God has put us pre­cisely here to­day to taste this and to ap­pre­ci­ate even more the chal­lenge to­day,” the coach said af­ter the Sao Paulo game.

Now their dreams have met a dev­as­tat­ing end and to­day at what would have been an in­trigu­ing first leg of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal there’ll be only si­lence. Back in Chapeco, the sta­dium was opened up to greet griev­ing fam­i­lies and fans.

“We’re all here at the sta­dium to help the peo­ple con­nected,” said Tozzo. “It hasn’t re­ally sunk in yet. We have to trust in God. Out team must carry on,” he said. — AFP

CHAPECO: Peo­ple pay trib­ute to the play­ers of Brazil­ian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane ac­ci­dent in the Colom­bian moun­tains, at the club’s Arena Conda sta­dium in Chapeco, in the south­ern Brazil­ian state of Santa Cata­rina, yes­ter­day. — AFP

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