Football-crazy Brazilians are mourning the death in a plane crash of unheralded players anyone of whom could have been the next Pele or Neymar.
The Chapecoense squad from the small city of Chapeco south of the country was almost wiped out, save for three members, in the tragedy last week that has shown that futbol can rally people to unite behind under-achievers who had willed themselves to rise above Brazilian, if not world, football.
The team was on its way to the first of the two legs of the Copa Sudamericana finals in Medellin, Colombia, when their chartered plane went down in La Union near Medellin, killing 71, including 19 Chapecoense players, and sparing only three others—a journalist and a crew.
What is it about football that sends macho Brazilians weeping for their countrymen whether in victory or defeat?
For one, the boys from Brazil (no, not those boys) have proved themselves to be among the best in the world since football was invented and winning international trophies is expected of them.
Brazilians, for another, seem to be made for football with their build and swagger unmatched by non-Latino opponents and losing, therefore, is not an option.
The Netherlands is good and so is Germany but they lack the fire to excite 100,000 screaming fans in a football stadium, even if Deutschland destroyed Brazil in this year’s World Cup.
Iceland was a revelation in the 2016 Jules Rimet Cup but its game was just too predictable for it to progress and be among the Final Four.
To concede a “loss” via a plane crash, therefore, cuts the deepest in Brazilian men (and women) because those who perished cannot show anymore the stuff they are made of or possibly make up for a mediocre result.
The Chapecoense fairy tale began in 2009 when the squad rose from Brazil’s fourth to top division, a feat that can be likened to a tennis player laboring through qualifiers and bagging Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Or Leicester City, after an uphill climb, capturing the 2016 English Premier League after decades of trying.
Members of the Chapecoense eleven who died will have been buried last Saturday after a memorial service that had been expected to draw in 100,000 people—half of Chapeco’s population—to the area around the city’s 20,000-seater football stadium.
Vaya con Dios!