On the 29th of November 2016, 71 people died when a plane crashed in Brazil. On board were players and officials from the Santa Catarina based football club Associação Chapecoense de Futebol – better known as Chapecoense.
Only three members of the first-team squad survived the crash and the club faced a whole rebuilding project.
It’s very hard to recover from a tragic incident like this. When eight Manchester United players lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster of February 1958, the club struggled to maintain their success. Likewise, Italian club Torino have never been the same after the death of the Il Grande Torino side in 1949, who were five-time Italian champions and whose players were the backbone of the Italian national side.
After the crash in 2016, the football community across the world united for Chapecoense and many Brazilian and Argentinian clubs offered to loan their players to them. Everybody would’ve understood if this season would’ve been a write off for the club, but they defied the odds this weekend by clinching a second Santa Catarina state championship in a row.
Chapecoense plane crash survivors Jackson Follmann and Alan Ruschel celebrate their team’s Catarinense title. ?? pic.twitter.com/B7F0DFJ8S4
— SPORF (@Sporf) May 8, 2017
The champions were beaten 1-0 by Avai in Sunday’s play-off, but their first leg victory (also by 1-0) meant that they were crowned champions by virtue of a better record over the course of the season.
“We knew that Chape would have a lot of difficulties because of the rebuilding of the team, but because of the work we reached the title, beating opponents who are rivals and difficult to beat.”
Coach Vagner Mancini
This is the sixth time in their history that Chapecoense have won the Santa Catarina state title, but whilst the rebuilding has been a success so far, Chape still face the mammoth task of the national Brazilian championships, which kick-off this weekend.
Brazil’s football structure is complex and confusing; several independent pyramids make up a series of interconnected leagues. The state and national pyramids are independent, meaning that Brazilian clubs play in both every year. There are 26 state leagues across the country, making it one of the largest league structures in world football.
— Euan McTear (@emctear) May 10, 2017
The champions of the state leagues and the best teams in the national league all compete in the Copa do Brasil, which kicks-off from March until November.
Chapecoense have guaranteed their place in the Copa do Brasil through their state title, but the national league may prove difficult. The club play in the top flight, an outstanding achievement considering just a few years back they weren’t even in the four national divisions.
They kick-off their national league season with a clash against Sao Paulo giants Corinthians, who won their own state title. The 38 rounds will be a true test of how Chapecoense have rebuilt following their tragic air disaster just five months ago.
Despite being given the option to be protected from relegation for three years, Chape wanted no special treatment and refused.
For now, though, the focus is on the success. Emotional celebrations paid tributes to the players who had lost their lives in November, with the whole football community feeling a sense of pride over Chape’s achievements.