Chapecoense could be awarded Copa Sudamericana title

Team involved in fatal plane crash were surprise package of Brazilian football

 

The Colombian team that was scheduled to play Brazil’s ill-fated Chapecoense side in a South American championship final says it is offering the title to the rivals whose plane crashed.

Medellin-based Atletico Nacional says it has asked the South American football confederation to award the title in honour of the Brazilian team that was on board a plane that went down with the loss of more than 70 lives.

The small Brazilian team had been flying to Colombia to play Atletico in Wednesday’s Copa Sudamericana final.

Atletico Nacional says Chapecoense should receive the title in recognition of the team’s great loss, and as a tribute to the players who died.

Matches were cancelled around South America and Brazil declared three days of mourning.

For a few glorious days, the tiny club was the side of the moment, the latest in a string of sporting surprises in 2016.

Bucked the odds

Like Leicester City winning the Premier League for the first time or the Chicago Cubs finally taking baseball’s World Series after a 108-year wait, Chapecoense bucked the odds and delighted the romantics.

The team’s passage to the final of South America’s equivalent of the Europa League was a fairy tale to rival any of them.

Second Captains

“This wasn’t just a group where everyone respected each other, it was a family,” Plinio David de Nes Filho, a club director, told Globo TV on Tuesday morning, just hours after the accident wiped out almost the entire squad.

“Before they got on the plane they said they were going to make this dream come true. And this morning the dream ended.”

The story of Chapecoense’s rise goes back decades.

Founded in 1973 in the small agricultural city of Chapeco in western Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil, Chapecoense won its first state title four years later.

The team established itself in a competitive league without making waves outside the rugged region they called home and it was not until the new millennium that their fortunes changed.

Money troubles almost forced them to the wall but a group of local businessmen rescued them from financial collapse and set them on the road to the top.

Chapecoense won promotion from Serie D in 2009 and then rose steadily up the divisions, finally making it into the top tier in 2013.

Although they rank only 21st in Brazil in terms of revenue, Chapecoense have held their own against giants such as Flamengo and Corinthians thanks to a prudent administration that eschewed expensive signings in favour of blending young talent and experienced journeymen.

The team’s best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Atletico Madrid and Mallorca. Coach Caio Junior also was experienced, having managed at some of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them.

The team was more than the sum of its parts and victories over Argentine giants Independiente and San Lorenzo, were among its greatest ever.

Several hundred dejected fans gathered around the team’s Conda stadium in Chapeco, many of them wearing the team’s green strip. At least one young fan burst into tears.

“It is still hard to believe what has happened to the Chapecoense team just when it was on the rise,” said Agenor Danieli (64) who lives inthe agricultural town of about 200,000 people in Santa Catarina state. “We are in crisis. The town has come to a stop. Companies are giving people the day off so they can come here to the stadium. We need to pray. It still doesn’t feel real.”

“They were the hope of our city. They played for the love of the shirt and not for the money,” fan Jean Panegalli (17) said. “They played with the commitment that only those who have lived here know. They were ferocious.”

Agencies

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