(Reuters) - The small-town team that captured the world’s attention when most of its players were killed in an airline crash three years ago was relegated from Brazil’s Serie A on Wednesday, bringing an end to a heroic six-year run in the first division.
Chapecoense hit the headlines in November 2016 when its plane crashed on a trip to Colombia for the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s equivalent of the Europa league.
All bar six of the 77 people on board were killed, including almost all the players and backroom staff.
With the aid of loan signings and an outpouring of support from across the globe, the team quickly recovered to maintain top flight status in 2017 and 2018, both times managing to outperform bigger teams with more fans and larger budgets.
However, Chapecoense lost 1-0 at home to Botafogo on Wednesday, a result that condemned it to relegation from the Serie A for the first time since it joined the Brazilian football’s elite in 2013.
Chapecoense have won just six of its games this season and with three matches remaining it cannot win enough points to stay up.
It joins Avai, which was relegated earlier this month. Another two clubs will join them before the season ends on Dec 8.
“First of all, I want to apologise to the fans,” Chapecoense coach Marquinhos Santos said. “The fans here are different. When a fan stops you, they always encourage you, even when times are tough.”
“Chapecoense are now going to rebuild. Chapecoense are going to come back and come back stronger.”
The club from a small state in southern Brazil has had a fairy tale rise. Formed in 1973, it rose from the fourth division to the first between 2009 and 2013.
Reaching the Copa Sudamericana final was the club’s greatest ever achievement and the crash - which took place three years ago on Nov 28, 2016 - was mourned across the globe.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in both Colombia and Brazil to salute the fallen players. Barcelona played Chapecoense in a friendly match; books and films were made about its plight; and fans across the world adopted the side as their second team.
Reporting by Andrew Downie