Colombia plane crash

Footballers' funeral to see huge turnout

A supporter of the Brazilian club Chapecoense lighting candles during a vigil on Friday for the players and members of the technical team who died in a plane crash in Colombia on Monday.
A supporter of the Brazilian club Chapecoense lighting candles during a vigil on Friday for the players and members of the technical team who died in a plane crash in Colombia on Monday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Global football fraternity offering help as club itself is determined to rebuild with dignity

CHAPECO (Brazil) • Around 120,000 people - including politicians, athletes and journalists - are expected to attend the funeral today of the Chapecoense players and coaches killed on Monday in a plane crash in Colombia.

The funeral will be held at Arena Conda, the home ground of the Brazilian football club in the southern city of Chapeco.

Around 1,000 journalists from Brazil and around the world have arrived, as well as Fifa president Gianni Infantino, Brazilian national coach Tite, and representatives from a number of foreign clubs. It is expected to be the largest event held in the city of 210,000.

"This is all very painful, but Chapeco will overcome," said the city's deputy mayor Elio Francisco Cella.

The tragic crash that killed 71 people - including all but three of the 22-man Chapecoense squad - resonated among millions of fans worldwide, and has moved many among the global football fraternity to offer their help to rebuild the shattered club.

  • Players who survived the crash

  • ALAN RUSCHEL, 27, DEFENDER

    Ruschel, the first identified survivor of the crash - thanks to a local 10-year-old boy who told rescuers where he was - has since undergone spinal surgery.

    He initially feared he may be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life but has been told he will walk again.

    HELIO NETO, 31, DEFENDER

    He underwent surgery after suffering severe trauma to his skull, thorax and lungs, and is in stable condition.

    Neto's father said on Facebook that news of his son's recovery was giving the family "renewed hope and faith" and that his son will be able to return to football. "My son is getting better and better. He has just undergone surgery on his leg and doctors say he will return to football."

    JACKSON FOLLMANN, 24, GOALKEEPER

    He has had his right leg amputated and is in "critical condition but stable" in the intensive care unit at San Vicente Fundacion Hospital in Medellin, Colombia, according to medical director Ferney Rodriguez.

    Follmann is sedated and is not aware that surgeons had to remove his leg.

    The medical director added that the hospital has assembled a team of psychologists and psychiatrists on standby to help him deal with the trauma.

For instance, a group of major clubs has called on the Brazilian Football Confederation to guarantee Chapecoense's presence in the top division for three years.

Teams as far off as Benfica in Portugal have also offered to lend players as the club rebuilds.

Ronaldinho, one of Brazil's best known players, and former Argentina international Juan Roman Riquelme are reported to have intentions to boot up and play for Chapecoense.

Chapecoense, who rose quickly from non-league obscurity in 2009 to contest the Copa Sudamericana, the second-biggest trophy in South America, were on their way to their first international final in Medellin against Colombian side Atletico Nacional.

The team accomplished much without relying on big-name stars. Their top scorer, Bruno Rangel, was a 34-year-old journeyman with more than a dozen stops on his resume. Team captain Cleber Santana, 35, had plied his trade all over Brazil, but also in Spain with Atletico Madrid.

Officials at the club believe the key to recovery will be staying humble and avoiding the excesses of some of Brazil's major clubs.

  • Other football teams hit by air tragedies

  • 1949: TORINO

    An airplane carrying 31 people crashed into a mountain peak outside Turin, Italy, on May 4 - killing all on board, including 22 players of Torino Football Club. The team had dominated Italian football in the 1940s, winning four league titles from 1942 to 1948.

    The crash was regarded as one of the worst tragedies in the history of Italian sports, to the point that a book detailing the crash was named The Day Italian Football Died.

    1958: MANCHESTER UNITED

    Flying back from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade, the Manchester United team plane crashed as it was taking off from Munich airport.

    Of the 44 people on board, 23 died, including eight players and eight journalists.

    The team, under the management of Matt Busby, were a rising force in English football, having won league titles in 1956 and 1957. Busby's squad had an average age of 24, earning them the nickname "the Busby Babes".

    Bobby Charlton, who went on to win the World Cup in 1966 for England, was among the 21 survivors.

    1993: ZAMBIAN NATIONAL TEAM

    Zambia's national team were due to arrive on April 27 in Dakar to play Senegal in a World Cup qualifier. Unfortunately, the plane did not arrive.

    It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 500m offshore from Libreville, Gabon.

    All 30 passengers died, including 18 players and five officials from the team.

    In 2012, Zambia marked their emotional return to Libreville by clinching their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations in a dramatic 8-7 penalty shootout win over Ivory Coast.

"We don't want anyone to pity Chapecoense," said Victor Hugo Nascimento, one of the few coaches not on the flight. "Any help is welcome but what we really want is to rebuild with the same dignity that got us here."

That aptly sums up this plucky team of giantkillers, who were a tight and competent club that stood out for their unexpected success in a country that has in the past year been embroiled in economic and political troubles.

Founded in 1973 with the support of local businessmen, Chapecoense built their stadium and entered Brazil's fourth division in 2009. By 2014, they had reached the premier league, Serie A, and were confounding expectations by surviving there.

Chapecoense have already secured their highest finish in the top flight, clambering above clubs with more illustrious back stories and far greater financial resources for the third year in a row since promotion. With one game of the 2016 season remaining, they lie ninth in the league.

A regional team punching so far above their weight drew inevitable comparisons with the surprise English Premier League champions Leicester City.

Indeed, this was a link that the coach, Caio Junior, was keen to embrace back in September.

"Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title," he said after a league win over Fluminense.

Chapecoense were a side close to the peak of their powers, on the way to a final few would have given them a chance of reaching. But the crash has cast a pall over the entire nation.

"In a country where so many think they are giants, Chapecoense knew their size and how much they could grow," said Andre Rocha, a prominent writer on Brazilian football. He called the team "a moral example".

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 04, 2016, with the headline 'Footballers' funeral to see huge turnout'. Print Edition | Subscribe