Chapecó (Brazil) (AFP) – Chapecoense made an emotional but ultimately disappointing home debut in the Copa Libertadores losing their biggest hometown match since a plane crash all but wiped out the Brazilian club.
The team, which is trying to rise from the ashes of the November 28 crash, lost to Argentine side Lanus 3-1 on a rainy night at Arena Conda, in the small southern city of Chapeco.
Chapecoense sent the crowd into a frenzy by taking the lead early in the second half when forward Rossi drove home a cross from Joao Pedro in the 49th minute.
But Lanus’s Nicolas Aguirre silenced the stadium three minutes later with an equalizer, and it was the visitors’ match from then on.
Jose Sand made it 2-1 with a penalty in the 66th minute after Joao Pedro took down Lautar Acosta at the edge of the box.
Acosta then added the finishing touch in the 80th minute at the culmination of a masterful passing sequence.
Chapecoense have signed 22 new players since their plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the mountains outside Medellin, Colombia, killing 71 people.
Nineteen players and 24 club officials died in the crash, which devastated the unsung team at the height of a fairytale season.
Now Chapecoense are playing for the first time in the Libertadores, the premier tournament in South America, and trying to pull off a miraculous rebirth.
They won their first match away against Venezuela’s Zulia last week.
As recently as 2009 Chapecoense were languishing in Brazil’s fourth-tier league.
But the little club that could rose to the first division in 2013 and were on their way to the biggest match in their history — the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s second-biggest club tournament — when the tragedy struck.
Their opponents in that match, Atletico Nacional, ceded the title to Chapecoense in tribute, giving the devastated club automatic entry to the Copa Libertadores.
Emotions were already riding high an hour before the match. Fans swarmed the team’s bus as it ferried them to the stadium, setting off smoke bombs in Chapecoense green and chanting “Let’s go, Chape!”
The stadium was not filled to capacity, with 12,489 spectators for the 20,000 spots. But the fans who braved the rain sang and cheered Chapecoense on to the last minute, even as the score board turned bleak.
Despite the result, the crowd looked to be in high spirits as they left the stadium. No one ever said it was going to be easy.
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