Brasileiro outfit Chapecoense were struck by tragedy when the plane flying their team to the Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional crashed in Colombia, killing 76 people.
Such had been their success against the odds of late, head coach Caio Junior, who is believed to be among those to pass away in the accident, likened his side to last season’s surprise Premier League winners.
“Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title,” he was quoted by the Guardian as having said in September.
“I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players.”
Those dreams of glory have now been dashed in a horrifying manner that will see the usual significance placed on sporting competition pale into insignificance. As the football world digests the news of the tragedy, we examine the remarkable recent rise, sadly cut short, of one of Brazilian football’s underdogs.
The relatively small club hail from Chapeco in the state of Santa Catarina and were founded in 1973. They play their home games at the Arena Conde – which has a capacity of 22,600 – and needed just four years to win their first trophy of note, beating Avai 1-0 in the final of the state championship in 1977, a title they have won four more times since, while also lifting the Copa Santa Catarina once.
They did not enjoy as much success at national level, entering the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A for the first time in 1978, when they finished 51st out of the 74 participating teams. Things did not go much better the following season when they had to settle for 93rd place, only Guara doing worse.
Their poor results saw them drop to the lower tiers of Brazilian football, until finally returning to the top flight in 2014, having finished second behind Palmeiras in Serie B the season before. They came 15th in their first campaign since their return to avoid the drop back to Serie B, only to improve one position the following year, while they sit ninth this term with just one match to go.
It is on the continent that the Arena Conde side have really made a name for themselves, though. Chapecoense saw off Ponte Preta and Libertad to reach the quarter-finals of the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, before Argentine heavyweights River Plate ended their dreams of going all the way in the quarter-finals.
They went even further this year with Caio Junior at the helm. Captained by former Atletico Madrid man Cleber Santana, Chapecoense dismantled Cuiaba, Independiente, Junior and San Lorenzo on their way to the final, where Atletico Nacional awaited until disaster struck on Tuesday.
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