SAITAMA – Chapecoense hopes to seek inspiration from a nation that knows pain firsthand as the tragic Brazilian club faces Urawa Reds in Tuesday’s Suruga Bank Championship.
More than eight months after a plane crash killed all but three of its players, Chapecoense has arrived in Japan for the annual midsummer one-off pitting the J. League Cup holders and the Copa Sudamericana champions.
The three survivors of November’s crash, that occurred as Chapecoense made its way to Colombia to play Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana final, have not made the trip for the game at Saitama Stadium. One of the three, defender Alan Ruschel, marked his return to the pitch only last week in a tribute match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Chapecoense manager Vinicius Eutropio said it is fitting his team is in Japan, a country devastated by an earthquake and tsunami and an ensuing nuclear disaster six years ago, but which has found its footing since.
Eutropio said Chapecoense ought to take a spiritual lesson from the Japanese as it continues its return to normalcy.
“This is a country which showed the entire world what recovery is all about,” said Eutropio, who returned to the club last month for a second spell following the sacking of Vagner Mancini.
“We are in the process of rebuilding and we want to take whatever we can from here that will help us on our path to recovery.”
Eutropio said the three crash survivors — Ruschel, Neto and Jakson Follman, who had his right leg amputated — have provided the rest of the team with courage and an appreciation for life in general.
The coach maintained that Tuesday’s game is important to Chapecoense, which will be playing its first competitive match overseas since the crash that claimed 71 lives in a mountain near Medellin, Colombia.
“The message those three have passed on to us is to live life to the fullest and to do what you love most. That is the lesson they have taught us,” said Eutropio, who was previously with the club in 2015 when he laid the foundation for a squad that advanced to last year’s Copa Sudamericana final.
“This match means something to us,” he said. “We are serious about it and we hope to give it everything we have at this point in time. There is an intercontinental trophy at stake, which is something Chapecoense have never won. So it’s imperative for us to take this silverware back home.
“We are expecting a very difficult game. We’ve had a long trip to get here, have jet lag and our opponents are a quality side. I’ve only been in charge for 30 days, but I have faith in my players and hope to take a win back to Brazil.”
Urawa has been through turbulent times in its own right, having recently sacked coach Mihailo Petrovic after 5½ years. But on Tuesday, Reds will be expecting an emotional affair they will never forget.
“(Chapecoense) are moving forward one step at a time and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to play them,” captain Yuki Abe said. “I’ve played a lot of games in my career, but I think this is one I will remember for the rest of my life.”