159 days ago, a city wept—71 passengers would lose their lives as LaMia flight 2933 crashed in the Colombian countryside. A tragedy some 3000 miles from Chapecó tore the heart out of the Brazilian city. “There’s a lot of people crying in our city. We could never imagine this. Chapecoense is the biggest reason for joy here,” reflected club vice-president Ivan Tozzo. Of the 71, 22 were Chapecoense players and 23 coaching and other staff—a team decimated. It was to be the club’s finest moment in history, facing Colombia’s Atletico Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Instead, it was the nightmare.
The footballing world clubbed together to offer support in Chapecoense’s hour of need. The Brazilian side received the Copa Sudamericana after the two legged affair was abandoned, while clubs clambered over each other to loan players so the team could finish the season. Rivalries were set to one side as Chapecoense cobbled together a squad for the few remaining games of the league campaign.
Yet from the ashes of tragedy came triumph. Yesterday, with six new permanent signings and 19 loanees, Chapecoense lifted their first piece of silverware—just four months and a day after that fateful night. Amongst the celebrating fans who invaded their crowded Arena Condá pitch were two survivors: Jackson Follmann and Alan Ruschel. “The city deserved the club because of everything that happened,” remarked left-back Ruschel, while Follmann added, “This victory is for them, and this victory came because of those angels who are blessing us.”
“We knew that Chape would have a lot of difficulties because of the rebuilding of the team,” observed new manager Vagner Mancini, “but because of the work, we reached the title…Chape has arrived with great justice to the title.” And who would begrudge Chape their moment of triumph, a much-needed celebration following so much heartache and despair.
As if by some cruel fate, Atletico Nacional, the team which Chapecoense were due to face in Colombia and which sportingly forfeited the trophy in honour of the dead, also won the Copa Libertadores, and the two clubs find themselves head to head once again for the upcoming Recopa Sudamericana. Chapecoense won the first leg 2-1 after goals from Reinaldo and Luis Otavio.
The club welcomed its hosts for the first leg with open arms, presenting each player and staff member with a medal to commemorate their gracious decision to award Chapecoense with the Sudamericana title, later paraded through the streets on top of a firetruck.
“It is obvious that this is more than a game,” reasoned Nacional’s Bocanegra before the first leg. “We’re humans, it is impossible not to hope for the best for our adversaries too.”
Wednesday’s second leg promises to be an equally emotional affair, a game which will truly transcend football.