December 1, 2016 / 2:10 AM / 3 years ago

Colombia and Brazil soccer teams join in tribute after plane crash

MEDELLIN, Colombia/CHAPECO, Brazil (Reuters) - At the moment when they were set to take the field as foes, two soccer teams a continent apart raised their voices in unison on Wednesday, paying tribute to the 71 lives lost in a plane crash that cancelled the final of the Copa Sudamericana.

Fans of Atletico Nacional soccer club hold flowers and candles as they pay tribute to the players of Brazilian club Chapecoense killed in the recent airplane crash, in Medellin, Colombia, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Colombia’s Atletico Nacional, which was ready to host the first leg of the final on Wednesday night, instead held a ceremony in honour of their fallen rivals Chapecoense, whose planed crashed into a hillside outside of Medellin.

Rowdy fans scaled walls into the stadium after the 46,000-person arena filled up an hour before the ceremony began. Others brought flowers and teared up during a minute of silence at the scheduled kickoff time.

“We expected an excellent match. They aren’t as big as Nacional but they were coming to give it their all, so tonight we’re Chapecoense fans,” said Lidia Alzate, 41, who came dressed in white along with her two children.

Nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away, Chapacoense fans also filled their stadium in a remote corner of southern Brazil, holding a second night of vigil for their team whose stunning rise from the fourth division in Brazil to the continent’s top tier had captured the country’s imagination.

With illuminated cell phones aloft, they packed the stadium to its capacity of 20,000 - a tenth of the city’s population - and cheered as their youth players and reserves from the first team did laps around the field.

“There’s so much emotion in this stadium. It feels like a game night,” said Francis Fabio, 25, with tears in his eyes.

A brief video of Colombian fans singing an homage to Chapacoense appeared on the big screen, electrifying the Brazilian stadium as the crowd sang along.

“Let them listen around the continent. We will always remember the champions Chapecoense,” they sang in unison.

Atletico Nacional has offered the title to Chapecoense, although directors of the Brazilian club said they liked the idea of sharing the honour.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Medellin and Brad Haynes in Chapeco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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