Relatives of players of Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, who perished in a plane crash, react before a charity match between Chapecoense and Palmeiras. (Reuters Photo/Paulo Whitaker)
Tears Flow as Chapecoense Return to Action
BY :ANDREW DOWNIE
JANUARY 22, 2017
Chapeco. Thousands of fans gathered under a blazing sun in southern Brazil on Saturday (21/01) as Chapecoense played their first match since most of their players were killed in an air crash in Colombia in November.
The friendly against Palmeiras was the first game of the season for both sides but it was much more about symbolism and emotion than sport for a club looking to bounce back from one of football's great tragedies.
The game was halted in the 71st minute to allow fans to scream their now famous "Vamos Chape!" chant in tribute to the players and staff who perished in the plane crash.
The Arena Conda stadium was adorned with thousands of hand-made origami in the shape of hearts and tsurus, birds that signify health, good fortune and long life.
One banner behind the goals read, "Eternal Champions, kit man to the president," a reference to the many players and backroom staff who died.
The survivors and their relatives took center stage before a ball was kicked, with Jackson Follman, the goalkeeper whose leg was amputated as a result of the crash, being presented with the Copa Sudamericana trophy in a tearful ceremony.
Follman was one of only six people to survive the crash, which came as the Chapecoense squad approached Medellin to play Atletico Nacional in November’s Copa Sudamericana final.
The plane ran out of fuel and hit a mountainside, killing 71 people on board, many of them players, officials and reporters on their way to the game.
Chapecoense were awarded the Sudamericana title by Conmebol in December after the fixture was cancelled.
In an emotional ceremony, the wives of the dead players were given the medals their husbands would have received.
Follman, who was wheeled into the center circle in his wheelchair, cried as he lifted the trophy, Chapecoense's first ever continental title.
The game that followed was hard fought but with a scorching sun overhead and both sides giving their squads their first run out of the season it was never more than a glamorous training match.
Palmeiras scored the opener after nine minutes when Raphael Veiga nipped in between hesitant defenders to score from just inside the box.
Douglas Grolli equalized for the home side five minutes later when he headed home a free kick from the left. Amaral gave Chapecoense the lead just minutes into the second half with a glancing header.
But Vitinho grabbed a late equalizer for Palmeiras with a spectacular left-foot shot from outside the box with 12 minutes left.
The ground was well short of its 20,000 capacity but those who did turn out said they hoped it was the start of a new era for the club.
"We couldn't not be here," Sizelda Filipi, a fan who lives around 30 kilometers from the ground, said shortly before kick-off.
"We'll get very emotional and then we'll move on. This is a restart."