Brazil grieves for team

Rain and sor­row ac­cen­tu­ate memo­rial for dead at sta­dium.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Mauri­cio Savarese and Stephen Wade

chapeco, brazil » On a rainy Satur­day that only ac­cen­tu­ated the grief, 20,000 peo­ple filled a tiny sta­dium un­der um­brel­las and plas­tic pon­chos to say good­bye to mem­bers of the Chapecoense soc­cer club who died in a plane crash.

The ac­ci­dent Mon­day in the Colom­bian An­des claimed most of the team’s play­ers and staff as it headed to the fi­nals of one of Latin Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant club tour­na­ments. Sev­enty-one of the 77 peo­ple on board died, in­clud­ing 19 play­ers on the team.

Rain-soaked mourn­ers jammed the mod­est sta­dium with four or five times that out­side — about half the pop­u­la­tion of the south­ern Brazil­ian city of 210,000 — to pay homage to a mod­est club that nearly reached the pin­na­cle of Latin Amer­i­can soc­cer.

Thou­sands also lined the roads as the coffins were driven in a pro­ces­sion from the air­port to the sta­dium memo­rial.

“I’ve been here since early morn­ing,” said 19-yearold Cha­iane Loren­zetti, who said she worked at a lo­cal su­per­mar­ket fre­quented by club play­ers and of­fi­cials. “I’ll never see some of my clients again. It’s a dev­as­tat­ing day that will last for­ever.”

Soldiers wear­ing berets car­ried the coffins into the sta­dium on their shoul­ders, slosh­ing through stand­ing wa­ter and mud on a field filled with fu­neral wreaths, club and na­tional flags, and other trib­utes.

A tent, with the coffins placed un­der­neath, stretched across the width of the soc­cer field. On top of the white tent, a sen­tence from the club’s an­them was writ­ten for all to read.

“In hap­pi­ness and in the most dif­fi­cult hours,” it said. “You are al­ways a win­ner.”

Fam­ily mem­bers and friends wept un­der the tents. Many hunched over the coffins with photos of the de­ceased placed on top or along­side as al­most ev­ery­thing got splat­tered by the non­stop rain.

Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer, who had not planned to visit the sta­dium for fear of be­ing jeered, ar­rived af­ter greet­ing the ar­rival of the bod­ies at the air­port. He was treated re­spect­fully and was joined by Gianni In­fantino, the head of FIFA — the world gov­ern­ing body of soc­cer.

Ivan Tozzo, the act­ing pres­i­dent of the club, told fans the club would con­tinue on, and re­minded them that “it was here on this field where this club fought the good fight.”

“This team taught us that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” he added, re­call­ing that the team rose in less than a decade from the depths of Brazil­ian club soc­cer to the fi­nal of the No. 2 tour­na­ment on the soc­cer-crazed con­ti­nent.

In clos­ing, he added, “We are all Chapecoense.”

Chapeco Mayor Lu­ciano Buligon, like sev­eral speak­ers, praised the aid that Colom­bia pro­vided — along with the club Atletico Nac­tional, the team Chapecoense was to play in the two-game fi­nal.

“Atletico Na­cional summed it all up on its web­site,” the mayor said. “Atletico said Chapecoense came to Medellin with a dream, and it leaves a leg­end. Leg­ends don’t die.”

The sta­dium memo­rial came af­ter a heart-wrench­ing week for res­i­dents and fam­ily mem­bers.

Hun­dreds of ban­ners, flags and hand­writ­ten mes­sages hung around the sta­dium — in Por­tuguese, Span­ish and English.

One sign in Span­ish was aimed at Colom­bian of­fi­cials who helped with the res­cue. Six peo­ple sur­vived, in­clud­ing three play­ers.

“Colom­bia, Thanks For Ev­ery­thing” it read.

“They de­serve a farewell of cham­pi­ons,” said Ta­tiana Bruno, who stood in­side the sta­dium in the rain, wear­ing a plas­tic pon­cho to stay dry.

It wasn’t clear ex­actly how many coffins were brought into the sta­dium, though tele­vi­sion re­ports put a rough count at 50. Most of the peo­ple who died, in­clud­ing the 19 play­ers, were not from Chapeco and were to be buried else­where.

Trucks car­ry­ing the coffins of Chapecoense soc­cer team mem­bers, vic­tims of an air crash in Colom­bia, drive through the streets of Chapeco, Brazil, on Satur­day. Photos by An­dre Pen­ner, The Associated Press

Soldiers on Satur­day carry a cof­fin in front of fans in the Arena Conda sta­dium in Chapeco, fol­lowed by the player’s loved ones.

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