Chapecoense vows to compete, possibly with borrowed players
CHAPECO, BRAZIL >> Six players, a handful of support staff, and deep sorrow are all that remain of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer club.
They will still try to play again. Because they know that’s what their 19 teammates who died Monday when a charter plane ripped into an Andean mountainside would want them to do.
“In the memory of those who died and to honor their families, we will rebuild this club from scratch so it is even stronger,” club director and local businessman Cecilio Hans said. “We had material assets and human assets. Now we’ve lost nearly all of our human assets.”
Other clubs in Brazil’s top league are offering to loan players to Chapecoense, with a proposal that the modest club in deep southern Brazil is guaranteed to stay in the top division for the next three years.
“The club will rebuild, I am sure,” said Walter Feldman, secretary general of the Brazilian Football Confederation. “Eight clubs have already called me to offer concrete, material solidarity. We are studying ways to best help.”
The crash occurred as the team was on its way to the opening game of the two-leg Copa Sudamericana final — the No. 2 tournament on the continent. Only three players survived, and all are recovering at a hospital in Colombia: defender Helio Zampier, commonly known as Neto, defender-midfielder Alan Ruschel and goalkeeper Jakson Follmann, whose right leg had to be amputated Tuesday.
At the time they expected to be home watching their team on TV, more than 22,000 Chapecoense fans were at the Arena Conda to cheer, cry, watch videos of tributes coming from all over the world and attend a Catholic Mass.
They celebrated the Copa Sudamericana title they hope to share with Atletico Nacional. They used a song created by Atletico fans: “May they hear/all over the continent/that we will never forget/the champions of Chapecoense.”
With the families of the victims on the center of the pitch, fans chanted the names of the players one by one and celebrated 5-yearold Carlos Miguel, the club’s mascot that many in the city feared to be in the crashed plane. Dressed like a Chapeco indian, Carlos waved to the crowd in tears as the stadium’s big screen showed messages like “heroes” and “forcachape” (be strong, Chape). The few staffers and players who didn’t travel circulated the pitch as fans cheered.
Chape, as the team is called locally, reached the top of South American soccer without any superstars — no high-profile players from Brazil’s celebrated national team. It was in Brazil’s fourth division just seven years ago, climbing into the first division by 2014. Now it starts the climb again, and this one is even steeper.
Goalkeeper Marcelo Boeck said he and several players had deals to leave the club new one next year. He said they’re reconsidering.
“We know this is a different moment, and we are part of it,” he said. “We hope we can help rebuild in the memory of our team.”
The rebuilding could start Dec. 11, the date scheduled for the final round of league matches in the top Brazilian league. Games have been called off this weekend for a period of mourning.
Chapecoense’s acting President Ivan Tozzo told reporters on Wednesday the club hopes to play that match against Atletico Mineiro using a primarily junior team.
After that match, there is uncertainty over Chapecoense’s future. If the team is awarded the Copa Sudamericana tittle —like its final opponent Atletico Nacional proposed — it would qualify for next year’s Copa Libertadores, the Champions League of South America which begins in February.