Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense — from the small city of Chapecó in the state Santa Catarina, which has just over 200,000 inhabitants — were in the middle of a fairy tale season.
They joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals — the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament — after defeating two of Argentina’s fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia’s Junior.
Chapecoense were on their way to Medellín to face Atletico Nacional for the first leg of the final when the plane, carrying 81 passengers crashed, killing 76 while three players were rescued. The tournament has now been suspended indefinitely.
Brazil and Barcelona star Neymar expressed his grief on Instagram, saying “Impossible to believe this tragedy, impossible to believe this event. Impossible to believe that the plane crashed, impossible to believe that athletes, humans were on this plane, impossible to believe that these people left their families .. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BELIEVE !!! Today the world cries, but heaven rejoices in receiving Champions. My feelings to all family and friends 😥😓😢😭 STRENGTH CHAPE. (sic)”
Impossível acreditar nessa tragédia, impossível acreditar no ocorrido, impossível acreditar que o avião caiu, impossível acreditar que atletas, seres humanos estavam nesse avião, impossível acreditar que essas pessoas deixaram suas famílias .. é IMPOSSÍVEL ACREDITAR!!! Hoje o Mundo chora, mas o céu se alegra em receber Campeões. Meus sentimentos a todos os familiares e amigos 😥😓😢😭 FORÇA CHAPE 👊🏽🙏🏽🙌🏽
“Chapecoense was the biggest source of happiness in the town,” the club’s vice-president, Ivan Tozzo, told Brazil’s SporTV. “Many in the town are crying.”
Tozzo added, “we are very sad, gathered here in the locker room of our stadium. We are still waiting for news. All our board is there, our players. We have nothing concrete on their state.”
“There are a lot of people crying in our city, we could never imagine this. Chapecoense is the biggest reason for joy here. We hope there are many survivors, at least that most of them are OK.”
The official twitter handle of the club posted the team’s crest in black instead of the usual green soon after the announcement of the death toll.
Their opponents for Tuesday, Atletico Nacional, said “the team deeply regrets the accident and is in solidarity with @chapecoensereal and expects information from the authorities.”
The club was founded in 1973 and won their first state title four years later, winning it for the fifth time this year. They also won the Copa Santa Catarina in 2006 and have four other minor trophies within the state but the last seven years have seen the club make considerable strides.
Chapecoense were in the fourth tier of Brazilian football till 2009 but were promoted to Serie B after finishing third in 2012 and two years later they were back in the top flight for the first time since 1979, after finishing the previous season in second place behind Palmeiras.
Among the club’s notable players are Matheus Biteco, on loan from Hoffenheim, the captain Cléber Santana, who played for Atlético Madrid between 2007 and 2010 and the Brazilian defender Alan Ruschel.