After Andes tragedy, Chapecoense set for emotional cup final

AP News
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Posted: Apr 02, 2017 6:24 PM

CHAPECO, Brazil (AP) — It will be anything but a typical soccer cup final when Chapecoense faces Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana on Tuesday.

Instead, the focus will be on remembering those who died four months ago when the plane carrying Brazilian team Chapecoense crashed in the Andes on the way to the Copa Sudamericana final against Colombia's Atletico Nacional.

Out of 77 passengers, 71 died, including 19 players, journalists, and club officials.

This time, when Chapecoense faces Atletico Nacional, gratitude will replace rivalry and solemn prayers for closure will matter more than who wins.

The South America's Recopa annually pits the winner of the Copa Libertadores — that was Atletico Nacional — against the Copa Sudamericana champion.

After the Nov. 28 crash outside Medellin, the Copa Sudamericana title was awarded to Chapecoense at Atletico Nacional's request.

In effect, the Recopa is a replay of the two-game final that should have happened four months ago until the disaster wiped out the Brazilian team.

A southern city of about 200,000 residents near the Argentine border, Chapeco is preparing motorcades, fireworks and videos for before, during, and after the match. Edson Erdman, an artistic director who was involved with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, was hired and a municipal holiday was declared so every citizen can take part.

There will be celebrations in downtown Chapeco and a fan march to the Arena Conda. Special videos will also be shown on the big screen during halftime. Afterward, fireworks will go off, and in downtown Chapeco a time capsule will be set aside to be opened in 43 years. That is the present age of the Brazilian club.

As the club prepares for some closure, others in Chapeco still have a long road ahead.

Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann has yet to discover his next job after losing part of a leg in the crash. Two other surviving players — winger Alan Ruschel and defender Neto — want to get back on the field, but doctors avoid making predictions about their futures.

In a social media post last week, Neto published his last group photo taken with victims of the crash.

"I wish I had taken a picture with each one of those that left us. I wish none of this were true," the defender said.

Players' wives and others with ties to the victims have threatened to sue the club for financial compensation. The club says the issue will be solved in the near future.

Last week members of the Japan Football Association met with officials of the Brazilian club to offer support. Brazil great Zico offered his help.

"There is a collection of money from several J-League games, from fans and clubs," Zico told reporters. He said Chapecoense would collect the money when it plays in Japan in August.

So far, the rebuilt team has been holding its own.

It leads the Santa Catarina state championship with 13 points after five matches. In the Copa Libertadores, it has three points from two games, just like the three other teams in Group G.

The return leg of the Recopa Sudamericana is in Medellin on May 10.