Chapecoense players were killed in Monday's plane crash in Colombia
The first leg of tournament final was supposed to take place Wednesday
Colombian soccer team Atlético Nacional is urging South America’s football governing body to award the Copa Sudamericana title to the Brazilian team which lost many of its players Monday night in a deadly plane crash.
The crash killed more than 70 people, including members of the Chapecoense team who were flying to Medellin to play Atlético Nacional in the final of the soccer tournament, one of the most prestigious in South America.
Five or six passengers survived, including three Chapecoense players, authorities said.
The club, which has risen up the ranks in Brazilian soccer, was set to play in the first leg of the South American Cup finals Wednesday.
In a statement on its website, the Medellin-based Atlético Nacional said it wants the title to go to Chapecoense as an “honorary laureate/prize for its massive loss.” The trophy should be an “homage to all the victims of the fatal accident which throws our sport into mourning,” it said.
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The statement added: “For our part, and forever, they will be the Chapecoense Champions of the Copa Sudamericana 2016.”
‘Pain is heavy in our hearts’
A memorial service has been scheduled for Wednesday at the Atanasio Girardot Stadium in Medellin, where the two teams were supposed to meet.
Instead, the city’s mayor has called for people to attend wearing white and carrying candles “to honor all the victims of this tragedy.”
The city of Medellin, which was supposed to kick off its famous Christmas festivities Wednesday, has postponed the event until Saturday.
“Pain is heavy in our hearts and sorrow and mourning invades our minds,” read the statement from Atlético Nacional.
“The hours since we heard of the news have been terrible. It is news that we never wanted to hear. Our brothers’ accident, from the Chapecoense football club, will mark us for the rest of our lives and will leave a footprint that can never be erased from the history of football in Latin America.
“All of this was completely unexpected, and therefore painful. All of them, footballers, technical team, journalists and crew, were people full of dreams.”
The Nacional team was supposed to travel to Curitiba, Brazil, for a second finals match with Chapecoense on December 6.
It will now await a decision from CONMEBOL, South America’s football governing body, on what happens next.
The Copa Sudamericana, the second biggest intercontinental club competition in South America and the equivalent to Europe’s Europa League, was the latest backdrop to Chapecoense’s remarkable story.
The club, from Chapeco in the state of Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil, was only formed in the 1970s and was playing in the country’s lower fourth tier as recently as 2007.
A team with few big names, apart from Cleber Santana, who once played for Atletico Madrid and Mallorca in Spain, it somehow went toe-to-toe with the big boys of Brazilian football.
Full of grit, team spirit and determination, Chapecoense was a relatively unfashionable team hoping to tread an unlikely path laid out by upstart Leicester City, the surprise 2016 champions of England’s Premier League.
This season Chapecoense had already traveled to Argentina twice to defeat Independiente and San Lorenzo, and had scored an aggregate victory over Junior, a Colombian club.
Victory in the final of the Copa Sudamericana would have been the greatest triumph in Chapecoense’s history and allowed the team to compete in next season’s Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious club competition on the continent.
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“Our solidarity can only be expected as we shared the Chapecoense’s dream of being continental champions of the Copa Sudamericana,” Nacional added.
Karla Pequenino in London and Marilia Brocchetto and Natalie Gallón in Atlanta also contributed to this report.