Time. Life. Time and Life. Two elements in our human society that are intertwined into the depths of eternity. Such is the importance of enjoying life in a time of uncertainty, a time of questioning, a time where in this day and age, Lady Luck makes all the rules as to who remains to live and fight another day, and to who will be sent to a better place in the heavens, amongst the angels that treat the fallen as heroes who have left a legacy in serving those they love so much on this planet.
The story of Associação Chapecoense de Futebol, the Chapecoense Football Association, is one of a small club that rose to take on the giants of Brazil and come within two games of becoming among the best in South America, a continent that lives, breathes, eats, drinks and sleeps the game of association football…only to have the dream end in one of the game’s biggest tragedies to date, one that has made this club a sentimental favorite, a team of the people of its city, its country, and the world.
The story of Chapecoense began not too long ago, back on May 10, 1973. Its birth is not too far removed from that of Paris Saint-Germain, founded three years prior from a merger in France. Chapeco is a city of 209,553, a mid-size city located in the state of Santa Catarina, one of the most livable states in the Federative Republic of Brazil. Its citizens are descended from immigrants of Italy, Germany and Poland, three countries whose national football teams are respective powerhouse, one of which are the current defending FIFA World Cup champions. An agro-industrial powerhouse forged by the strength of agricultural cooperatives, Chapeco is home to companies such as Sadia, Seara Foods and Aurora Central Cooperative.
Like PSG, Chapecoense was founded as a result of a merger, the two clubs in this case being Atletico Chapecoense and Independiente. The first title for the Big Green came in 1977, when they won the state title, the Campeonato Catarinense or Catarinão, over Avai FC. Chapecoense, to date, have won the Catarinão in 1977, 1996, 2007, 2011 and 2016.
Nationally, Chapecoense began their rise to the top in 2009, when they competed in the Serie D. In the quarterfinals of that season, following a 4-1-1 finish in Group 9 (13 points), Chapecoense scored two-legged victories over Corinthians Paranaense (3-0), Londrina (3-2) and Araguaia (2-2, 2-1 away goals) to advance to Serie C. Two more years would pass before Chapecoense got a chance to move up.
During the 2012 Serie C season, Chapecoense had a record of 8-5-5 (29 points) in Group B and defeated Luverdense 3-1 in the quarterfinals to advance to Serie B. In 2013, Chapecoense earned a record of 20-12-6 (72 points) to finish second on the table behind eventual league champions Palmeiras, and within a span of five years, the Big Green, the Verdao, had hit the big time. Chapecoense was a Serie A team.
The first season for Chapecoense was not an easy one, as the club staved off relegation with a record of 11-10-17 (43 points), good for 15th of 20 teams. That year, they would get their first taste of continental competition, scoring big two-legged victories over Ponte Preta (4-1) and Club Libertad of Paraguay (2-2, 5-2 PSO) before being eliminated by River Plate in the quarterfinals.
In the 2015 season, Chapecoense again struggled to get right but did finished 14th of 20 teams with a record of 12-11-15 (47 points). Once again, the Big Green were back in the second stage of the Copa Sudamericana. The following year, Chapecoense had their best-ever performance in Serie A, 13-13-11 (52 points), a ninth place finish that surpassed Fluminense, Cruzeiro, among Sao Paulo, among the notable giants of Brazilian club football.
Chapecoense started their 2016 Copa Sudamericana campaign against fellow Brazilian club Cuiaba. The underdogs won the first leg 1-0 but in the second leg at the Arena Conda, Chapecoense’s home ground, the Big Green prevailed 3-1 to win 3-2 on aggregate. Lucas Gomes opened up the scoring on 67 minutes before Bruno Rangel scored a brace in the 70th and 82nd minutes. In the Round of 16, which took place on September 21 and 28, a scoreless draw over 210 minutes with Argentina’s Independiente saw Tiaguinho convert a winning penalty to give Chapecoense a 5-4 penalty shootout upset.
In the quarterfinals, which took place on October 19 and 26, the Sharks of Junior F.C. from Barranquilla, Colombia were the next to face Chapecoense. Despite winning the first game 1-0, Junior had no answer for the red-hot Big Green at the Arena Conda. Ananias (35′), Gil (43′) and William Thiego (78′) powered Chapecoense to a 3-0 second leg win and a 3-1 aggregate win. Against Argentina’s San Lorenzo in the semifinals, which took place on Nov. 2 and Nov. 23, Ananias’s 61st minute away goal in the first leg offset Martin Cauteruccio’s strike in the 29th minute to give Chapecoense a 1-0 away goal win despite a 1-1 draw.
Reinaldo Rueda’s Atletico Nacional, one of Colombia’s storied clubs, would be Chapecoense’s final opponent. The first leg was scheduled for November 30 at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot in Medellin, Colombia. The second leg was scheduled for December 7 at the Estadio Couto Pereira in Curitiba, Brazil. LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 was scheduled to fly Chapecoense to Colombia for the first leg. LaMia had a reputation for transporting other football clubs. They had a record. However, the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil had denied Chapecoense’s request to charter a plane directly from Sao Paulo to Medellin, forcing a change of planes at Santa Crus de la Sierra in Bolivia.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) November 29, 2016
At about 8 p.m. PDT, an electrical emergency was declared while flying between La Ceja and La Union. The place would crash in Cerro Gordo, located in La Union, 283.1 kilometers south of Medellin. There were only six survivors: players Alan Ruschel, Jakson Follmann and Helio Hermito Zampier Neto; journalist Rafael Henzel of Radio Oeste; flight attendant Ximena Suarez and flight technician Erwin Tumiri, the latter two of Bolivian descent. Notable fatalities included manager Caio Junior; players Filipe Machado, Marcos Danilo Padilha and Cleber Santana; Fox Sports commentator Mario Sergio Pontes de Paiva; and Miguel Alejandro Quiroga Murakami, the pilot and a part-owner of LaMia.
A shortage of fuel was considered to be the reason behind the accident according to Suarez. However, Colombia’s Special Administrative Unit of Civil Aeronautics has concluded that the plane was actually running without any fuel, meaning that without proper fueling, the flight was doomed from the start. Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning, all CONMEBOL activities were suspended.
Finally, in one of the most amazing and touching moments in this sport, Atletico Nacional requested to CONMEBOL that the Copa Sudamerica and all of its honor be awarded to Chapecoense despite finishing runners up in 2002 and 2014. In a similar gesture of goodwill, a number of Brazilian teams offered to loan the club players for next season.
In the game of soccer, we stand by those who have fallen and show solidarity to those who are willing to die in the name of the game the world loves so much. There have been many aviation disasters involving great club and national football teams. The Munich air disaster. The Superga air disaster. LAN Chile Flight 210. Surinam Airways Flight 764. The 1993 air disaster involving Zambia’s national football team. The 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster.
To the families of the fallen and to the citizens of Chapeco, we stand with you, we support you, and we salute your heroes of war. Great teams are able to overcome tragedy of the highest order, and through the support and solidarity of those who believe in the power of football, the game itself will help Associação Chapecoense de Futebol rise from the ashes and continue to be a team not just for its fans, but for all fans of sport. The legacy of Chapecoense is to always remember that no matter what happens, never give up because you will always have someone on your side. Even if you are unable to tell the world you have made it, the legacy you have left, the big green footprint you have left behind, and the fact that you are in a better place right now, is more than enough to build a foundation for the future, one that the youth of the world will follow.