Less than a week ago, in the early hours of Monday morning, local time, the world of football was shaken to its core as the charter plane carrying Brazilian Serie A side Chapecoense crashed in the hills of Medellín, Colombia, just a few miles short of the airport.
Brazil has declared 3 days of mourning after the plane crash that killed 71 people including Chapecoense football players. pic.twitter.com/HOJY4OdCLl— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 30, 2016
(Ed note: while the official cause of the crash is yet to be determined, reports that have emerged paint a completely avoidable, absolutely negligent and heartbreaking scenario. If you want to feel extra upset, read this post on Reddit, this article in the Economist or listen to this segment with Ewan MacKenna on the Irish Times Second Captains Football Podcast.)
The small team from the city of Chapecó in Santa Catarina State had achieved a major feat in reaching the finals of CONMEBOL's Copa Sulamericana, the second-most important continental trophy in South America. They were on their way to play Colombian team Atlético Nacional in Wednesday's first leg.
Atlético Nacional, who won the Copa Libertadores earlier this year in addition to their domestic league and cup competitions, were gunning for a tremendous quadruple. Instead, they made one of the most generous and poignant gestures in team sports by asking CONMEBOL to give the title to their opponents, thus guaranteeing Chapecoense's place in next year's Copa Libertadores. (Meanwhile, other Brazilian sides have offered to loan players to the club and to make Chapecoense exempt from relegation for the next three seasons.)
When it came time for Wednesday's scheduled match, a moving tribute was held, with Atlético Nacional fans celebrating Chapecoense's title in song. Meanwhile, Fox Sports Brasil, who, among multiple other news outlets, also lost several journalists traveling on the flight, showed a black screen for the 90-minute scheduled running time.
Chapecoense's rise up the ranks of Brazilian football and their unlikely run in the continental competition captured the hearts of Brazilian fans. They were not one of Brazil's super-clubs, but rather a small and financially prudent operation, putting in truly heroic shifts and fantastic moments throughout their historic campaign in the competition. The latest was a godly save by goalkeeper Danilo at the last minute of the semifinal played at their home ground Arena Condá, named after a native chief from the region that fought Brazil's government for his people's right to the land. Danilo had initially survived the crash but succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. The emotional narration below was given by Fox Sports Brasil commentator Deva Pascovicci, who also lost his life in the accident.
As the world mourns Chapecoense's loss and many try to find reasons for what caused the accident in the first place, beautiful tributes are taking place throughout the sport. Many teams, including Chelsea paid their respects during midweek training, too.
Arsenal defender Gabriel gave an emotional interview to Arsenal TV on Thursday, speaking about players he was quite close to, as well as Chapecoense's manager Caio Júnior, who was one of his first coaches at the professional level.
Chelsea youngster Nathan, who's currently on loan in the Eredivisie at Vitesse, lost a couple friends in the crash. He paid tribute to them after scoring on Saturday, and in an unlikely moment of common sense, the referee didn't even book him.
Jochem Kamphuis on not booking Vitesse winger Nathan: "I was aware he'd lost two friends. It was special for him to score and honour them" pic.twitter.com/UCOt3qaoov— Mohamed Moallim (@iammoallim) December 3, 2016
Tributes were of course paid before the highly anticipated match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad on Saturday as well.
Before kick-off, there will be a minute's silence to remember the victims of the plane crash in Colombia earlier this week. #Chapecoense— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) 3 December 2016
Chelsea's Brazilian core, a key staple of the team for much of this decade, made special gestures with the black armbands that all players were wearing as Chelsea scored one, two, three goals against Guardiola's Manchester City.
David Luiz: "I want to dedicate this win to the people who died in Brazil. It was difficult to get my head together as I had friends there." pic.twitter.com/nsSm4E8UiM— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) 3 December 2016
As the rest of the world slowly moves on to other games, event, and scandals, this heavy loss will remain fresh in the memories of everyone who has been touched by Chapecoense on their amazing journey through Brazilian and South American football. May their legacy last forever.