Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN the plane carrying Brazilian club Chapecoense’s players and officials went down in Colombia on Monday night, killing 71 people on board, it plunged the global football family into mourning as it grieved over the loss of stars who had provided another Cinderella tale.
In a year in which the game’s lightweights have punched above their weight, unfashionable Chapecoense appeared on course to provide the fitting climax by winning the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s version of the UEFA Europa League, just a few years after having been outside Brazilian football’s professional ranks.
Dubbed the Leicester of Brazil, in the wake of England’s Leicester City’s stunning rise to win the Premiership title and also qualify for the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League this year, Chapecoense appeared primed for success in South America in what would have been one of the greatest tales in the game’s history.
But Chapecoense’s heroic footballers and their coaching staff didn’t live to complete their fairytale after Flight 2933 crashed just outside Medellin, where the team was due to play the first leg of their Copa Sudamericana final, killing all but just six on board, including 21 Brazilian journalists, who were set to cover the historic match.
Nineteen players were killed, while three other players, including one whose leg had to be amputated due to injuries to save his life, survived the tragedy.
Four Fox Sports commentators and reporters, including the legendary 66-year-old Mario Sergio Pontes de Paira, a former Brazilian national team player and manager, were among the 21 journalists who lost their lives while only one journalist lived to tell the horror of the tragedy that has shaken world football.
Team coach Luiz Caio Junior, who said he would now “die happy” after leading the club to the final of the Copa Sudamericana just a week ago, was among those who perished.
Last night, Chapecoense were scheduled to play in the biggest match in their history, taking on Atletico National of Medellin in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final, in Medellin but, instead, thousands of the Colombian team’s fans turned up at the stadium in tears to remember their opponents who perished in such tragic circumstances.
The disaster near Medellin came just two days after the CAPS United family started an extended boisterous party, likely to spill into the New Year, following the Green Machine’s success in the Premiership race after 11 years of waiting for the biggest prize in domestic football.
And, while Makepekepe — who this week received a congratulatory message from FIFA president Gianni Infantino for their success — continue to celebrate with a victory parade set for Harare on Saturday, which will end with a party at their National Sports Stadium fortress where they finished the season unbeaten in the league, there are some striking similarities between the Harare giants and the Brazilian club whose pursuit of success ended in tragedy on Monday night.
That also includes a history steeped in tragedy.
Both clubs share the green-and-white as the primary colours of their identity, and the two teams were both formed in 1973.
CAPS United won the domestic league championship in 1979 and, in the same year, Chapecoense won the Taca Santa Catarina.
Both clubs enjoyed tremendous success in 1996 with CAPS United winning the domestic league title, their SECOND championship crown, while Chapecoense also won their SECOND Santa Catarina state championship that year.
CAPS United’s league championship success, this year, was their FIFTH in history, while Chapecoense’s Santa Catarina state championship success, this year, was their FIFTH in history.
Both clubs this year have been inspired by a 35-year-old veteran with CAPS United getting their inspiration from striker Leonard Tsipa while Chapecoense were inspired by midfielder Cleber Santana.
Both clubs’ history is now steeped in tragedy with CAPS United losing three star players Blessing Makunike, Shingi Arlon and Gary Mashoko, and two of the club’s most passionate fans in March 2004, in the biggest single loss of footballers in a single incident in the history of Zimbabwe football, while Chapecoense lost virtually their entire team in a plane crash in Colombia on Monday night.
Steve Kwashi, the coach who guided CAPS United to their first league title, after independence, in 1996, suffered debilitating injuries, including serious head injuries which effectively ended his coaching career, in a car crash in March 2001 while Chapecoense coach Luiz Carlos Caio died in Monday’s plane crash.
There were 77 people on board when the doomed plane that came down just outside the Colombian city of Medellin on Monday night and, as if by a stroke of cruel irony, CAPS United first played in the domestic league championship in ’77.
Kwashi’s son, Tostao, lived to carry his father’s legacy and was one of the club’s assistant coaches, this year, when CAPS United won the league championship on the 20th anniversary of the success story written by his father in 1996.
Chapecoense coach Luiz’s son — a player for the team — somehow missed the doomed flight to Colombia after forgetting his passport and could possibly live to enhance his father’s legacy.
In October 2007, the then CAPS United goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro was injured after the car he was travelling in, coming from a league match in Bulawayo, spurned out of control after one of its tyres burst just outside Kadoma and slammed into a tree but the giant ‘keeper, somehow, escaped with his life from the horror crash.
And, on Monday night, Chapecoense’s first-choice ‘keeper Danilo, whose heroics in the semi-finals had helped them book their place in the Copa Sudamericana final, was one of the people pulled out alive from the wreckage of that plane crash in Colombia but, sadly, he lost the battle for his life shortly after being admitted at hospital.
FIFA president’s response to the Brazilian tragedy
“This is a very, very sad day for football. We are so sorry to hear about the airplane crash in Colombia, it is shocking and tragic news. At this difficult time our thoughts are with the victims, their families and friends. FIFA would like to extend its most heartfelt condolences to the fans of Chapecoense, the football community and media organisations concerned in Brazil,” said Infantino.
FIFA president’s response to CAPS United’s success story this year
“Please pass on my personal congratulations, along with those of the whole football family, to CAPS United on their performance,” Infantino said in a letter sent to ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa.
“A national victory is a wonderful occasion and an opportunity to draw satisfaction for a job well done. I know that behind this success are the belief and effort of everyone involved. This is a true team victory, and all of you deserve to share in the accolades — the players and the coach of course, but also the technical and the medical staff, and, not least, the loyal fans.
“The dynamism and commitment of the CAPS United team have enabled them to win this title. Football is proving more than ever that it can transcend traditional boundaries to become a real driver of development.
“Football truly is a school for life and I am convinced that everyone, and in particular the young people of today, can benefit from playing on both a social and personal level.
“That is why I urge CAPS United to continue their work, leading the path of success.”