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A Year On, Paulinho Dias Remembers Crash that Shook Chapecoense

“Chapecoense is family. It’s a club of warriors and the people of Chapeco love them,” says Paulo Henrique Dias da Cruz or Paulinho Dias.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:November 28, 2017, 9:43 AM IST
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A Year On, Paulinho Dias Remembers Crash that Shook Chapecoense
“Chapecoense is family. It’s a club of warriors and the people of Chapeco love them,” says Paulo Henrique Dias da Cruz or Paulinho Dias.
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New Delhi: “Chapecoense is family. It’s a club of warriors and the people of Chapeco love them,” says Paulo Henrique Dias da Cruz or Paulinho Dias.

The defensive midfielder who currently plays for the Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League, was a crucial cog in the wheel through Chapecoense’s journey to the top when he turned out for them in 2012 and 2013.

On their way to what would have been their biggest night, the Chapecoense family, was tragically ripped to shreds in a matter of moments. In a matter moments, they could have been safely on the ground. This was exactly twelve months ago.

Chapecoense is 44 years old.

The travelling party that included players, coaching staff, officials and the media were on their way to Medellín in Colombia for the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against the more fancied opponents - Atlético Nacional.

Chape began their journey in Sao Paulo before changing planes in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The flight developed fuel and electrical problems and crashed into a mountain a dozen miles from its destination. A total of seven people survived, four players; of whom one succumbed to injury, a journalist and two members from the crew.

“What happened at Chape left me shocked and numb. I was extremely sad and I could not stop crying. I knew the guys on the plane. I could not believe it.”

Paulinho began his journey at Cruzeiro, joined Chape on loan in 2012 before a permanent transfer saw him play through 2013. In the couple of years, the team earned promotions in each of the seasons helping them achieve top flight status for the first time since the late 1970s.

“We were among Brazilian football’s elite. We always stuck together,” recollects the 29 year old.

“On our way to the stadium on match days, in the bus, we would always sing and pray.”

Dias played 47 times in those two seasons, finding the back of the net on four occasions. Fortunately or unfortunately, he would leave just before they began their return to the Brazilian Serie A and joined Clube Atletico Paranaense for three seasons.

“At Chape everyone believed that anything was possible and always dreamed big.”

At the time, not only was the Copa Sudamericana title handed over to Chape on the request of Atletico Nacional but also former players like Juan Roman Riquelme and Ronaldinho offered to play and help the club.

Opponents within the league were willing to let players change sides free of cost and the Brazilian FA had unanimously received requests to grant them immunity in the league for the three years. The immunity was granted, but Chape led by President David de Nes Filho refused and decided to work their way back to the top on their own.

Images from Brazil showed the sadness and despair. The changing room had flowers and pictures of the deceased all around, anyone who knew the players made it a point to drop by.

“I wanted to help the team, but I did not know what to do as I had a contract at Paranaense. We were in touch with the families, helping them in any way they need,” says Dias.

Jakson Follmann, Helio Neto and Alan Ruschel were the only ones from the squad that survived the tragic crash. Of the three Alan is the only one who has returned to the Arena Conda, while Neto is still working his way back.

Follmann lost his right lower leg, but is studying to become a director at Chapecoense.

The club was invited by Barcelona to play a friendly for the Joan Gamper Trophy in August; Alan the left back was part of the match. They lost 5-0 to the Catalan giants, but Dias does not care about the result.

“That was a very very kind gesture by Barcelona. It is not without reason that they are loved and respected so much.”

Since then, Chapecoense have rebuilt their squad with loaned players and short term contracts. On Sunday they set a new club record of being unbeaten for nine games on the bounce, they secured the right to remain in the top flight less than a fortnight ago and are in contention to make it to the Copa Libertadores – the most prestigious tournament in South America at the domestic level.

En route the top division, Chape was like an unstoppable force, determined to make their mark. In 2017, they displayed immense strength, winning the Campeonato Catarinense – the state competition of Santa Catarina.

The greatest of all comebacks in modern day football has touched many a heart, but alongside there was a lesson for one and all.

Paulinho who is very happy at the way his old club has picked themselves up, adds “I learnt a lesson for life that everything can be rebuilt with faith, unity and love.”
| Edited by: Baidurjo Bhose
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