With a powerful strike into the bottom left corner, Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani scored his one hundredth goal on Wednesday for Paris Saint-Germain, the ultra-rich soccer club playing in Ligue 1, France’s top division. After scoring, he removed his jersey to reveal a white t-shirt with the letters ‘ACF’ written across his chest; beneath it ‘fuerza’ was written, which means strength in Spanish.
He received a yellow card for his gesture, as all Ligue 1 players do for displaying messages under their jerseys, but he felt that his act was worth it. His undershirt was a tribute to Associação Chapecoense de Futebol, a Brazilian football club that lost the majority of its players and staff in a plane crash on Monday.
The Chapecoense squad was on its way to the city of Medellin in Colombia to face Atlético Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana finals, a continental tournament bested only by the Copa Libertadores in terms of prestige. The team’s plane was low on fuel and eventually crashed, ending the lives of 71 of the 77 people on board. Three players survived; 19 players and the coaching staff died. Three Chapecoense players did not board the plane, including Matheus Saroli, the son of the late Caio Junior, Chapecoense’s head coach.
The game would have been the biggest match in the club’s history and the most important one in most of the players’ careers. Chapecoense is a relatively young club, founded in 1973 and based in Chapeco, a small city in southern Brazil. Since 2009, the club was on an upward trajectory, rising rapidly from the fourth division to Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, Brazil’s top league.
The tragedy evoked a resounding response from the international soccer community, with Cavani’s celebration being only a single instance in what has been a showing of remarkable solidarity. Condolences flowed in by the thousands on social media channels, clubs across the world wore black armbands in commemoration, and some even bore the Chapecoense badge.
Umbro, the company that produces Chapecoense’s jerseys, cannot keep up with demand for the team’s shirts, citing scarcity of the required fabric.
Additionally, several Brazilian and Argentinian clubs offered Chapecoense access to their players on loan, free of charge. Brazilian player Ze Roberto offered to play for Chapecoense without a salary next year, and there are rumours that retired superstars Ronaldinho and Juan Roman Riquelme may return to the pitch to don the Chapecoense jersey. Clubs all around the world held a minute of silence for the team.
As for the Copa Sudamericana final, Fox Sports in Brazil aired a black screen asking for 90 minutes of silence in lieu of the cancelled match. Chapecoense was crowned the victor of the Copa Sudamerica following Atlético Nacional’s request that the team receive the trophy.
Chapecoense’s incident recalls similar tragedies from previous years where other soccer teams saw players and staff die from plane crashes. The entire Zambian national team died in a plane accident in 1993. The Munich air disaster in 1958 befell English club Manchester United: eight players and three staff members passed. In 1949, Italian club Torino F.C. was wiped out in a plane crash. The catastrophe also decimated the Italian national team at the time, which included many Torino players.
It will be difficult for Chapecoense to rebuild, but the soccer world seems determined to help them. The process will likely be difficult, but they can shine again with determination, resilience, and fuerza.