Photograph — Hypebeast

Almost two months after a disaster that immersed the little town of Chapeco in their darkest night yet, on the eve of what would have been their greatest achievement yet in the club’s small history, the fast-rising Brazilian club appears to have seen the first stretch of light as its new players made it out to the pitch for the first time since the unfortunate incident, howbeit, amidst tears from survivors and fans. Players and members of management of Chapecoense CF were on their way to Medellín where they were scheduled to play Atletico Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana when their plane ran out of fuel and subsequently crashed, killing 71 passengers.

The event was the worst disaster in the world of football since the 1993 crash of the Zambian men’s national team headed for the African Cup of Nations. During matches that were after the crash, stadia across the world were dressed in the traditional colours of Chapecoense as players and fans paid their respects to the fallen heroes. As support poured in for the team and the club, a section of Brazilian clubs promised to loan some of their players to Chapecoense in order to ensure the continuity and competitiveness of the club. In weeks that followed the crash, Brazilian legend, Ronaldinho and former Argentine captain, Juan Roman Riquelme were rumoured to have pledged their support for the team by offering to play for them. The Brazilian clubs have now made good their promises as the new team, comprising loan players and graduates from the club’s youth system, made it to the pitch for the first time after the disaster as families of late players and survivors received winners medals and lifted the Sudamericana trophy. It was an evening of tears and cheers.

In a remarkable show of strength and dignity, the club rejected the offer of relegation immunity from the Brazil football association. They also rejected the offer to complete loan signings for free, completing signings and preparation of the new Brazilian football season on their own terms.

On Sunday, players of the Chapecoense football club filed out against Palmeiras for a preseason friendly to show their readiness for the new season which starts on January 26. So far, Chapecoense have signed 17 players on loan while the remainder of their 30-man squad are players from their youth team, with one of the three survivors of the crash, Alan Ruchell joining the team. The same club that was at the pinnacle of a fairy-tale adventure just months ago will now have to battle for survival.

The much-expected return of the team ended in an excusable 2-2 draw with Palmeiras as a number of the players played together for the first time. Theirs is a story of strength and hope. By returning to the pitch, keeping the memories of the colleagues in the hearts of football lovers, they paid the ultimate respect for their friends, the eternal champions.

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