Tragedy strikes Chapecoense, serial overachievers dubbed a ‘Brazilian Leicester’

The Brazilian club were in middle of fairytale season after reaching Copa Sudamericana final, having been promoted to the top flight in 2013

Chapecoense, the Brazilian team on board the plane that has crashed in Colombia, were in the middle of a fairytale season before the tragedy struck.

This should have been the most glorious week in the history of the club. Associação Chapecoense de Futebol, relative small fry in the ecosystem of Brazilian football, were flying to Colombia to take part in their first continental final when the plane crashed carrying 81 people, 76 of whom have died.

The mood in the camp had been buoyant and for good reason: Chapecoense had seen off strong opponents in the previous rounds and had been playing with such grit that even a two-leg meeting with a strong Atlético Nacional side held little fear.

It was going to be an occasion to saviour, at the end of another season of achievement. Alongside their endeavours in the Copa Sul-Americana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League), Chape 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.

This is a club that only came into existence in the 70s, the result of a merger between two amateur teams. They quickly enjoyed success, winning the local state championship within five years of their founding, but remained a regional concern until recently, when their ascent through the divisions captured the imagination of Brazilians.

From their nadir in 2008, when they did not qualify for the fourth division of Brazil’s national league, Chapecoense have risen up the pyramid with every passing year: third in Série D; seventh, fifth and third in Série C; second in Série B; 15th, 14th and with one game of the 2016 remaining, ninth in Série A.

Theirs is a story of overcoming: a team from a relatively small, relatively unfashionable city mixing it with the big boys. Even in the top flight their squad remained modest, their most recognisable player probably Cléber Santana, once of Atlético Madrid and Real Mallorca. The return leg against Atlético Nacional was due to take place in Curitiba, some 400km away from Chapecó because their homely Arena Condá lacks the capacity and infrastructure to host a major final.

Plane carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense football team crashes in Colombia – video report

It is not surprising that a team punching so far above their weight had been the subject of comparisons with the Premier League champions, Leicester City. Indeed, this was a link that the coach, Caio Júnior, 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. “I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players.”

They had achieved that in the Sul-Americana, seeing off the Argentinian sides Independiente and San Lorenzo en route to the final. There were rarely fireworks – penalties were required in the round of 16, away goals in the semi-final – but the team’s work ethic shone through time and time again.

Tuesday morning’s events in Medellín, only add to the feeling of loss. This was a side close to the peak of their powers, on the way to a final few would have given them a chance of reaching. It is a tragedy in the truest sense of the word.


Jack Lang

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Brazilian team Chapecoense among those on board crashed plane
Authorities name survivors after plane with more than 80 people on board went down during flight from Bolivia to Medellin

Tom Phillips, Bonnie Malkin and Mike Hytner

29, Nov, 2016 @9:32 AM

Article image
Colombia plane crash: Brazil mourns victims from Chapecoense team flight
Brazilian president announces three days of national mourning after plane carrying Chapecoense football team crashes killing 71 people

Sam Jones, Tom Phillips and Jack Lang

29, Nov, 2016 @10:49 PM

Article image
Chapecoense fans gather in grief at football club's stadium in Brazil
Mourners wear football team’s colours and place tributes outside club’s arena in Chapecó after plane crash in Colombia

Jack Lang

29, Nov, 2016 @3:52 PM

Article image
Chapecoense plane crash: victims to be honoured with mass wake at stadium
South America mourns after nearly all of Brazilian club’s players, management team and media contingent died when plane went down in Colombia

Tom Phillips

30, Nov, 2016 @4:31 AM

Article image
PSG’s Edinson Cavani booked after showing T-shirt support for Chapecoense
Edinson Cavani was booked after scoring a penalty for Paris Saint-Germain in 2-0 defeat of Angers when he stripped off his shirt to reveal a T-shirt offering support to Chapecoense

Guardian sport

01, Dec, 2016 @12:16 AM

Article image
Bodies of Chapecoense players killed in plane crash returned to Brazil
Coffins of football team, supporters and journalists who lost lives met by Brazilian president Michel Temer at Chapeco airport

Chris Johnston and agencies

03, Dec, 2016 @4:23 PM

Article image
Chapecoense plane crash: fans' anger after confirmation plane ran out of fuel
Colombian media release audio of pilot telling air traffic controllers plane – which crashed killing 71 players, crew and journalists – was ‘without fuel’

Dom Phillips in Chapecó

01, Dec, 2016 @7:18 AM

Article image
Colombia plane crash: Fans gather to mourn Chapecoense footballers among 75 killed – as it happened
A charter aircraft carrying 81 people including members of Brazil’s Chapecoense football team has crashed en route to Medellin airport

Matthew Weaver and Bonnie Malkin

29, Nov, 2016 @8:43 PM

Article image
'Our club represented Brazil': Chapecoense tragedy a crushing blow to nation in crisis
For many in the southern city of Chapecó the football team, whose players and staff were nearly all killed in a plane crash in Colombia on Monday, were a balm against the political and economic upheaval battering their country

Dom Phillips in Chapecó, Brazil

30, Nov, 2016 @7:56 PM

Article image
Chapecoense plane crash: what we know so far about the flight
Why did the plane carrying the Brazilian football team crash into a mountainside killing all but six of the 77 people on board?

Matthew Weaver

01, Dec, 2016 @1:29 PM