Chapecoense have officially avoided relegation from the Brazilian league. A year ago, Chape was the victim of one of the most cruel tragedies that a football side has ever seen, with the plane crash in Colombia resulting in the death of 71 members of the club.
To say that the whole world mourned the victims of the tragedy, would not be an exaggeration. Chapecoense suddenly became everyone’s second favorite team in Brazil. However, the moral support that they received was by itself, far from enough to help them rebuild their squad. Some clubs offered to loan a number of their players, who were either youngsters or secondary team members, and their help was definitely appreciated. But Chape still had a very long way to go, to rediscover the heights that their team had reached, before the airplane crash.
As a tribute to the Brazilian club, Colombian giants Atlético Nacional, who were supposed to be their opponents in the the Copa Sudamericana final, asked the South American governing body, CONMEBOL, to hand the trophy to Chapecoense – and as such, they were able to claim the first international title in their history.
Moving a couple of months forward and the club tried to rebuild with whatever was at their disposal. The team was average at best in terms of individual quality. Not many expected Vagner Mancini’s men to come up with anything special, but they were able to surpass the expectations and claim the Campeonato Catarinense, which is their regional league title.
In the Copa Libertadores, Chape surprised everyone by doing enough to secure a spot for the Libertadores round of 16, in a very tight group. Luiz Otavo’s winner against Lanus, meant that Chapecoense would eventually qualify on top of the group. But CONMEBOL decided to nullify their 2-1 win against the Argentinian side, and to consider the game as a defeat by 3-0, to the Brazilians. The argument? Otavio was suspended and was not allowed to play against Lanus.
Chapecoense said that CONMEBOL had not informed them prior to the game’s kickoff, that Otavio was not allowed to play, as they had not yet taken their final decision concerning the player. All in all, it was a big gamble that the club took, and they eventually paid the price.
From that point, the team’s level regressed and they entered a very dark phase of awful results and terrible performances. It seemed likely at some point, that they would get relegated. But as always, Chapecoense surprised everyone by bouncing back. Tulio de Melo’s goal that secured a precious victory against Vitoria, meant that Chape’s latest achievement was to officially keep themselves in the Brazilian league, next season.
It is worth pointing out that Brazil’s football association had suggested to give Chapecoense immunity to relegation, but Chape refused this offer, and were able to achieve their target by relying on themselves – as they have always done.