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Fairytale to tragedy: Chapecoense the “Leicester City of Brazil”

Botafogo v Chapecoense - Brasileirao Series A 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 16: Kempes (C) of Chapecoense celebrates a scored goal during the match between Botafogo and Chapecoense as part of Brasileirao Series A 2016 at Luso Brasileiro stadium on November 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images)

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Chapecoense’s dramatic rise to the top levels of South American soccer has been halted in the most tragic way imaginable.

Late on Monday a charter plane transporting 77 people, including the Chapecoense team and its officials, crashed on its final approach to the Colombian city of Medellin, killing 71 people.

[ MORE: World soccer in mourning ]

Chapecoense were due to play the Copa Sudamericana final (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) first leg against Atletico Nacional on Wednesday and they had captured the imagination of fans across Brazil and South America with their incredible rise from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the top-flight in 2013 and on the brink of winning a continental title.

What could have become the finest week in the small clubs history had become a monumental tragedy.

With only a reported five survivors from the crash, three of them are believed to be Chapecoense players Jakson Follmann, Alan Ruschel and Heilio Neto.

Chapecoense manager Caio Junior, 51, is believed to have died among with his coaching staff and most of his players, plus 21 journalists perished on the flight, with arcraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri and journalist Rafael Valmorbida the only other survivors.

Speaking after a marquee win against Brazilian powerhouse Fluminese back in September, Cadu likened his teams rise to that of Leicester City, the 5000-1 shots who stunned the soccer world to win the Premier League in the 2015-16 season.

“Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title. I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players,” Cadu said.

Their star player was former Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca midfielder Cleber Santana but aside from that they were a team full of tough, hard-working players from the unassuming city of Chapeco in southern Brazil. They had gone on a glorious run through the Copa Sudamericana and reached the final, knocking off Argentinian sides Independiente and San Lorenzo on the way to becoming the first Brazilian team in three years to reach a continental final.

After their incredible rise through the Brazilian leagues to the top-flight for the first time since 1979 (they were on course for a top 10 finish ahead of the final game of the Brazilian Serie A season) this two-legged final was meant to be the pinnacle for Chapecoense. It was the most important week in club history, manager Cadu had said before his team set off on their journey to Medellin.

Now, he and many others will never return and the sheer scale of the tragedy has led to three days of national mourning in Brazil.

Chapecoense were truly a team which captured the imagination of the people.

Below is a list of the Chapecoense players said to be on the flight to Medellin ahead of the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, only three of which are said to have survived.

Rafael Lima
Neto - Survived
Gil (on loan from Coritiba)
Bruno Rangel
Ananias (on loan from Cruzeiro)
Marcelo Boeck
Mateus Caramelo (on loan from São Paulo)
Lucas Gomes (on loan from Londrina)
Willian Thiego
Sergio Manoel
Jakson Follmann - Survived
Claudio Winck (on loan from Internacional)
Filipe Machado
Arthur Maia (on loan from Vitoria)
Ailton Canela
Matheus Biteco (on loan from Hoffenheim)
Rafael Bastos
Alejandro Martinuccio
Cleber Santana (captain)
Alan Ruschel (on loan from Internacional) - Survived

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