Chapecoense goalkeeper Danilo was a hero, but he never saw himself as one
Editor's note: This is a translation from ESPN Brazil: Imortalizado, Danilo não queria saber de ser herói: 'Ninguém vence uma guerra sozinho.'
The ball was on the line in the final minutes of the match. San Lorenzo's Marcos Angeleri was facing the goal mouth with no one near him. He could have scored the goal that would shatter Chapecoense's Copa Sudamericana dreams.
And how close it was. Right on the line, Chapecoense's Danilo stopped being a mere goalkeeper and became a hero. With his foot, Danilo made a monumental defensive play on the last shot of the game. The Santa Catarina team was going to the finals of the second-most important club competition in South America.
Danilo will forever be immortalized in the hearts of Chapecoense fans. However, not even the biggest heroes live forever.
On Tuesday, Danilo became one of the casualties of the tragic accident that saw a chartered plane transporting Chapecoense to the Copa Sudamericana final first leg in Medellin, Colombia, crash on Monday night. He was rescued alive and transported to a local hospital, but was unable to hold on and died later that morning. After several contradictory reports, his death was confirmed by the Civil Aeronautical Authority and Red Cross in Colombia on Tuesday morning.
Danilo, 31, was born in Cianorte in the Brazilian state of Paraná. But it was Chapecó, the home of his football team, which held the largest space in his heart. The goalkeeper even rejected an offer from Sport Club do Recife due to his immense fondness for Chapecó, which was also shared by his family.
The keeper arrived to Chapecoense in September 2013, first on loan from Londrina. He played just one match that year, which saw Chapecoense finish as runners-up in the Brazilian Serie B. It was more than enough to convince the club to sign him the following January.
The initial plan was to use him as a reserve. Nivaldo, one of the club's biggest idols, was the starting keeper. But Danilo earned his place. First, he took advantage of playing time due to an injury to his experienced counterpart. Above all, he impressed the club with solid performances whenever he was given a chance. When he finally became a starter, he was never sent back to the bench.
This year, Danilo won his first and only title with the club, the Campeonato Catarinense, the main competition from the state of Santa Catarina. But one cup wasn't the end for the player nicknamed "São Danilo," or "Saint Danilo."
Danilo shone his brightest in this year's Copa Sudamericana. First, he excelled in the penalty shootout against Independiente, producing four amazing saves. In the quarterfinal against Colombia's Junior de Barranquilla, things went smoother.
Then, in the semifinals against San Lorenzo, he impressed with almost supernatural skills.
It was the highlight of a historic season for Danilo, but it never went to his head. Quite the contrary: he was eager to reject the "hero" label.
"No hero nonsense for me," said Danilo. "No one wins a war by himself. It would be unfair for my team if I had that goal go against me in the final minute of the match. Everyone's happy. Once again, our team's united effort proved itself to be responsible for our win," he told reporters after helping Chapecoense advance to the Sudamericana decider.
"It is possible [to win the championship]. No one thought we were going to reach the finals and here we are. Anything can happen. We have a dream, the dream of a championship -- to play Copa Libertadores with Chapecoense. We will fight to the max. We will give up our lives for this final match," Danilo said.
Unfortunately, the dream turned into a nightmare, as Danilo died alongside most of his Chapecoense teammates.
However, "Saint Danilo" will always be immortal.