Chapeco rises from ashes of tragedy

By Agence France-Presse in Chapeco, Brazil | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-23 06:59

Rebuilt Brazilian club returns two months after horrific air crash

Chapecoense, the up and coming Brazilian soccer club decimated by a plane crash, proudly strode back on the field on Saturday with a new lineup for its first match since the November tragedy.

The team took the field amid intense public and media attention at 20,000-seat Arena Conda stadium, which was decked out in the home side's green and white.

A total of 241 journalists from around the world were accredited for the match, but the stadium was not full. Tickets priced at $25 at a time of dire unemployment in Brazil kept some away.

The game against Palmeiras ended in a 2-2 draw.

Before kickoff, the three survivors of the crash that killed their teammates received the Copa Sudamericana trophy - the honor the team had been vying for when it was wiped out in the crash - to sustained applause.

Widows of the players killed then filed onto the pitch to receive medals on behalf of their husbands in an emotionally charged ceremony.

"I'm sure that those who have left us, if they are watching, would feel happy," one of the survivors, leftback Alan Ruschel, told a media conference before the game.

The team's plane went down on Nov 28 in mountains near Medellin, Colombia, as the team was flying in to play Atletico Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana tournament.

Of the 77 people aboard, 71 were killed, including 19 players and 24 other club officials.

In the 71st minute of the game, the stadium's crowd was asked to stand and clap in homage to the victims - the beginning of a tradition for all home games that will be played by Chapecoense.

Raphael Veiga opened the scoring for Palmeiras before Douglas Grolli put Chapecoense on the board with a goal that drew huge cheers from the crowd.

The rebuilt team went ahead 2-1 when Amaral added a second goal before an equalizer came from Vitinho to make the final score 2-2.

The plane crash cut short the fairytale run of the unheralded team that had risen in five years from the fourth division and was playing in its first major final.

To rebuild the side, sporting director Rui Costa has recruited 22 players, most of them on loan.

Costa said on Friday that the game was "the strongest argument ... that this club refused to die."

The club's new coach, Vagner Mancini, called the match "a pivotal moment."

Ruschel and another surviving player, defender Helio Neto, are on the path to recovery and are aiming to return to action this season.

Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann had to have his right foot amputated, ending his career.

The others who survived the crash were two of the plane's Bolivian crew and a radio reporter, Rafael Henzel, who called Saturday's game "the first match of my new life."

The new-look Chapecoense squad has no big names, but includes experienced players such as former Lille striker Tulio de Melo and ex-Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes.

Half the match proceeds were go to the families of those killed, while the rest will be used to rebuild the club.

'Small community'

The survivors met with management on Friday to discuss compensation from the Bolivian airline, Lamia, which owned the plane that crashed.

The tragedy was a blow to Chapeco, a town in which nearly all of its 200,000 inhabitants had some kind of connection to the team, either as supporters or sponsors.

"We are a small community. We are not used to such a high profile," said mayor Luciano Buligon.

"But this global attention has comforted us. This big wave of solidarity is helping us to raise our head and to look ahead."

The popularity of Chapecoense has gone well beyond Brazil's borders.

Miguel Alvarez said he and friends traveled from Argentina "for the inaugural match of this club that had a tragedy that affected everybody."

He added: "Football matters, yes, but mostly there has to be solidarity with the human side of it all."

 Chapeco rises from ashes of tragedy

Before Saturday's charity match against Palmerias at Arena Conda, Chapecoense player Helio Neto, who survived when the plane carrying the Brazilian squad crashed in the Andes in November, is greeted by relatives of teammates who perished. Photos By Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

 Chapeco rises from ashes of tragedy

Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who survived the crash but had his right foot amputated, carries the Copa Sudamericana trophy with his teammate Nivaldo.


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