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Brazilian Soccer Team's Plane Crashes In Colombia


Brazil is in mourning after the crash of a charter plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team. The team was headed to the biggest game in its history when the plane crashed in the Colombian Andes. More than 70 people were killed. Six survived. The crash brought to a violent end the Cinderella story of a team that rose from relative obscurity to qualify for one of the region's most prestigious tournaments. Catherine Osborn reports.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: Within hours of the crash, a video of the Chapecoense soccer team taken just a few days ago began circulating online.


UNIDENTIFIED PLAYERS: (Singing in foreign language).

OSBORN: Its players jubilantly singing in the locker room after defeating the powerhouse Argentinian team, San Lorenzo, in the semi-final of the Copa Sudamericana tournament. Even the fact that Pope Francis supports the Argentinian opponents couldn't stop Chapecoense's winning streak. And they had risen fast from a tiny city in the countryside of southern Brazil.

BERNARDO GENTILE: (Foreign language spoken).

OSBORN: Sports journalist Bernardo Gentile from the news site OUL says a few years ago, Chapecoense was obscure, in near financial ruin. Then new management got them organized and focused on hiring players that weren't necessarily superstars but would work well together.

GENTILE: (Foreign language spoken).

OSBORN: He says this is rare in Brazilian football, which recently has become better known for corruption. The rejuvenated team drew fans from around the city of Chapeco. Juliana dal Piva was among them.

JULIANA DAL PIVA: We always have sort of 10,000 to 15,000 people every week in the same year. And this is not very common in the other teams. When the team's not playing well, the fans don't go. We always go.

OSBORN: And this year the team's focus, an aggressive attack, got it to its first final match in an international tournament scheduled for tomorrow night in Medellin, Colombia.

DAL PIVA: We were many times playing against soccer teams that were more traditional, with more money, with better infrastructures. It was like a dream.

OSBORN: Brazilians nationwide have been charmed by the Chapecoense story, one of the biggest surprises in Brazilian sports in recent years. But the surprise turned dark last night when a charter plane carrying the team crashed in the Colombian mountains. Also on board were 21 sports journalists.

DAL PIVA: We not only lost the dream. We lost our people.

OSBORN: Shock spread across Brazil. The government declared three days of national mourning. And soccer matches have been cancelled for a week. The tragedy comes at what has been an especially difficult year in Brazil, which impeached its president in August and is going through its worst recession on record.

GENTILE: (Foreign language spoken).

OSBORN: "Soccer," says Gentile, "is one of the few things Brazilians can count on to bring people together in polarized times. Many had shelved political differences in recent weeks to root for Chapecoense. "The only thing to do now," he says, "is mourn together for a team that inspired a nation." For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.