By Rohan Ahluwalia
The soccer world woke up to the most dreadful news imaginable on Tuesday, Nov. 29: A flight carrying the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense crashed in Colombia just outside of Medellin.
Of the 81 people on the flight, which included players, coaches, journalists and airline staff, only six survived.
Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann and defenders Alan Ruschel and Norberto Neto were the only three players who managed to survive from the crash. The team’s main goalkeeper, Marcos “Danilo” Padilha, also initially survived the crash and was sent to the hospital; however, he soon succumbed to his injuries and died.
Chapecoense was traveling to Colombia to face off against Atlético Nacional on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in the first leg of their Copa Sudamericana final matchup, the second biggest international club competition in South America.
Chapecoense, who plays in the top-tier Brazilian soccer league, Serie A, managed to qualify for the final of the Copa Sudamericana on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
The matchup against Atlético Nacional was set to be the biggest soccer match in team history for Chapecoense. The team, founded only 43 years ago, comes from the impoverished city of Chapeco, in the south Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
It was only as far back as 2009 when the team was still playing in the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer. At that level, teams are not even considered to be semi-professional. The team managed to gain promotion to the third-level, Serie C, and then to the second-level Serie B in 2012. After one season, Chapecoense was promoted to the top-tier Serie A.
In only five seasons, the club went from being an amateur team to playing and competing in the same league as some of Brazil’s most famous soccer teams. They went from sharing the field with players who were not professional to playing with former Brazilian greats such as Ronaldinho. Only one word could describe the journey of the club — fairytale.
The Copa Sudamericana match-up was to be the pinnacle of the team’s fairytale. Now all of that will be remembered as what could have been and how much these two matches meant to the players and to the community they represented.
“The dream is over,” said Plinio David de Nes Filho, chairman of the club’s board, to Brazil’s TV Globo. “Yesterday morning I was saying goodbye to them. They told me they were going in search of the dream, to make this dream a reality. Now, it’s gone.”
Since the horrific crash, there has been an outpour of support for the club. All South American soccer matches that were to be held that week were suspended. Many Brazilian soccer teams took to social media and changed their profile pictures to a black version of Chapecoense logo while also offering to loan their club players from their teams. Many teams also called for the Brazilian soccer federation to exempt Chapecoense from relegation for three seasons so that the club could properly get back on its feet.
Support for the club also extended beyond South America with moments of silence before matches around the world. Many teams also wore black armbands while several Brazilian players playing abroad commented about the tragedy.
Finally, on Wednesday, Nov. 30, the day in which Chapecoense were supposed to play against Atlético Nacional, more than 45,000 fans arrived at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot, the stadium the match would have been held at, in order to honor those who lost their lives. Shouting and chanting in the same vein as they do for their own team, the Atlético Nacional fans started to sing “Força Chape”.
Meanwhile, FOX Sports Brasil honored the journalists who worked for the network and who were on the ill-fated plane, decided to broadcast a black screen which said #90MinutesofSilence at the time the match would have taken place.
In the end, nothing can be done to bring those who were lost but it is through these tributes that they will be remembered. For Chapecoense, the only thing they can do is move forward. They can do this knowing that the entire soccer and sporting world are behind them.