Atletico Nacional beat Chapecoense for Recopa title on celebratory night
More than five months after that tragic air crash, Chapecoense made it safely up to Medellin to face Atletico Nacional in a game that will enrich the history of football.
In the wake of the tragedy the two clubs became firm friends, and the ties were strengthened on a moving night in Medellin.
Centre-back Neto, one of the survivors, met up with the Colombian policeman who found him lying in the wreckage and began his rescue at a moment when the search was in danger of being abandoned. A ceremony was held with authorities from both cities. And then there was a rousing 90 minutes with a title at stake -- the Recopa Sudamericana, contested annually between the winners of the continent's two club competitions.
Atletico Nacional had won the Libertadores, the Champions League equivalent, last July. They had also made it through to the final of last year's Sudamericana (possible because the tournaments were held one after the other) where they were to face Chapecoense. After the air crash the Colombians insisted that the title be awarded to the Brazilians -- which meant that the two teams had another opportunity to meet, home and away, with the Recopa trophy as the prize.
So after the ceremonies and the embraces there was a game of football to be played. Chapecoense led 2-1 from the first leg, staged last month in Brazil, but it took just 100 seconds for parity to be reached.
The architect was Macnelly Torres, a playmaker who is one of the overlooked jewels of South American football. He has never been the greatest athlete, but he has a wonderful, instinctive understanding of space and the capacity to deliver an inch-perfect pass if he can find sufficient time on the ball. In the second minute he slipped a ball into the path of striker Dayro Moreno, who beat Brazilian keeper Artur Moraes at his near post.
The pair combined once more for the second goal. Moreno got to the left by-line and pulled a pass back to the edge of the area. Torres gave a superbly subtle lay off, allowing left winger Andres Ibarguen to cut across the defence and fire home on his stronger right foot.
Chapecoense now had to adopt a bolder approach. At the interval, coach Vagner Mancini removed Luis Antonio, one of a midfield trio who had looked very heavy-legged on a pitch slowed by fierce afternoon rain. He brought Apodi at right-back, moving Joao Pedro from that position to an attacking midfield role.
It made an immediate impact. Running with the ball, Pedro found a gap in the right side of the Colombian defence and threatened to change the game. He set up a chance for Arthur Kaike, which produced a fine goal-line clearance from centre-back Alexis Henriquez.
The encounter had now become so open that something had to give. Chasing the game, Chapecoense were taking risks, leaving themselves with little cover against the lively Nacional forwards. Slippery little Ibarguen made them pay for it, turning Apodi inside and out before blasting in a cross. At the far post Arley Rodriguez headed back across goal, and there was Moreno to nod in from close range. Ibarguen added a fourth, and the destiny of the title was not in doubt.
There was time, though, for Chapecoense to score a consolation goal, turned in neatly by substitute striker Tulio de Melo and warmly applauded by the Colombian crowd -- just as the goal scored last month by Torres had been applauded in Chapeco.
The Recopa title went to Atletico Nacional after an intense game played in a full competitive spirit -- there were eight yellow cards and one red, awarded late in the game to Chapecoense midfielder Andre Girotto.
Both sides wanted to win. Only one could. But everyone could go away from the game with an enhanced notion of the power of football to forge international friendships.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.