Rio de Janeiro, April 4 (IANS) Colombia’s Atletico Nacional were welcomed like heroes in the southern Brazilian city of Chapeco ahead of their clash with Chapecoense in the first leg of the South American Super Cup.
The match will take place just over four months after 71 people died — including 19 Chapecoense players and all of the club’s coaching staff — in a plane crash near the Colombian city of Medellin, reports Xinhua news agency.
The accident occurred just days before Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional were due to play in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final in Medellin.
Chapecoense were later named winners of South America’s second most important tournament at the request of Atletico Nacional. Days after the crash, Atletico Nacional paid tribute to the victims with a heart-warming ceremony before a capacity crowd at their Atanasio Girardot stadium.
Nacional’s squad were given a guard of honour after stepping off their chartered Avianca flight on Tuesday afternoon.
A military band played as journalist Rafael Henzel, one of only six survivors of the crash, presented Atletico Nacional’s players and staff with medals.
Dozens of locals, many waving Atletico Nacional flags, cheered and applauded while a posse of journalists and camera crews followed the Colombian outfit as they completed the short walk along the tarmac to a waiting bus.
“Chapeco outdid itself. We are far from home and yet received like heroes,” Atletico Nacional said on their official website.
“A continental final and total brothers. There are no words to express our gratitude.”
The South American Super Cup, known locally as the Recopa Sudamericana, is played annually between the winners of the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
Atletico Nacional won the Copa Libertadores — the local equivalent of the UEFA Champions League — in July by defeating Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle in the final.
The second leg of the Recopa Sudamericana decider will be played in Medellin on May 10.