Championship-bound Chapecoense faces tragic blow, Brazil mourns

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The soccer world has been left devastated following a plane crash that killed nearly everyone on board the aircraft, including the majority of the Brazilian soccer club Assosiacao Chapecoense de Futebol.

Members of Chapecoense, an up-and-coming soccer club that had seen little success until recently, had taken off from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on LaMia Flight 2933 prior to crashing into a series of mountains in Medellin, Colombia, on Monday, Nov. 28.

The crash killed 71 of the 77 people that were on board, including 19 athletes, members of Chapecoense’s staff and nearly two dozen journalists. Of the crash’s six survivors were three Chapecoense players, including one who had to have his leg amputated due to injury.

Prior to the fatal flight, Chapecoense had defeated the Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno in the semi-finals of The Copa Sudamericana, an international tournament that features the best of South American soccer. The team was en route to compete against the Colombian team Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the finals when an electrical failure caused the plane to crash.

In a show of sympathy and sportsmanship, Atletico Nacional asked that the Copa Sudamericana title and trophy be given to Chapecoense as a way of paying tribute to the fallen athletes. The finals were scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

“This is a very, very sad day for football,” said Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA in a statement made following the tragedy. “We are so sorry to hear about the airplane crash in Colombia, it is shocking and tragic news. At this difficult time our thoughts are with the victims, their families and friends. FIFA would like to extend its most heartfelt condolences to the fans of Chapecoense, the football community and media organizations concerned in Brazil.”

In response to the incident and the sheer loss of life, Michel Temer, Brazil’s president, enacted three days of national mourning, promising that the Brazilian government would stand behind the survivors of the crash and family members who have been affected. Soccer officials temporarily halted all games in Brazil for seven days to begin a period of mourning.

In a statement released by the presidents of several Brazilian soccer clubs, they stressed the importance of support and unity going forward. In the interest of standing in solidarity with Chapecoense, the presidents offered to loan players to the team for use in the 2017 season. In addition, the presidents requested that the Confederacao Sul-Americana de Futebol not relegate Chapecoense to Serie B throughout the next three seasons of play.

Chapecoense played in Arena Conda, a stadium located in the city of Chapeco in Southern Brazil. Chapeco, a city of 210,000 known for meat processing and other industrial enterprises, began taking more and more pride in the team after its rise in the last decade. Chapecoense was disadvantaged compared to more established and experienced soccer clubs, having been formed in 1973. Last year, the team finally made its first break into The Copa Sudamericana and advanced through to the quarterfinals.

This year, the team defeated its rivals from Argentina, Brazil and Colombia in order to make the finals, a feat it completed without possessing any superstar players.

Among some of the players killed in the tragedy were defender Filipe Jose Machado, midfielder Arthur Brasiliano Maia and forward Lucas Gomes da Silva. Chapecoense’s coach Luiz Carlos Saroli was also killed in the crash. In Saroli’s 14 years of coaching, he managed 20 different clubs.

The incident has sent ripples through the soccer world, drawing reactions and statements from a multitude of players and teams.

Manchester United Football Club issued a statement on the day after the crash saying, “The thoughts of everyone at Manchester United are with Chapecoense Football Club and all those affected by the tragedy in Colombia.” Similarly, Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney tweeted, “Sad news to wake up to today. Thoughts are with @ChapecoenseReal and their family and friends.”

The incident bears a striking similarity to the 1958 Munich air disaster, in which British European Airways flight 609 crashed on a slushy runway at Munich-Riem Airport. Among the fatalities of the disaster were 11 Manchester United players and staff, who were on their way home from a European cup match that they had played in Yugoslavia. Just like in the Chapecoense crash, several journalists were killed.

Recent inquiry into the cause of the crash is still ongoing as of press time, but investigators have been led to believe that fuel exhaustion was likely the cause of the incident. This is further evidenced by the fact that the aircraft was found without fuel and the aircraft did not explode upon impact.

A single flight attendant who survived the crash also stated that the aircraft had run out of fuel prior to the crash. The Unidad Administrativa Especial de Aeronautica Civil reported that both flight recorders were recovered from the crash site on Nov. 29. In the meantime, Brazilians worldwide mourn over the loss of their countrymen.

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