One year after tragedy, Chapecoense clinches Copa Libertadores qualification on final day of season

(Sirli Freitas/Divulgação/Chapecoense)

For Brazilian-based soccer club Chapecoense, this time last year was marked by unspeakable tragedy.

This time this year is marked by hope.

Nearly one year to the day after a plane carrying the Chapecoense team crashed and 71 people were killed, including all but three of the players, the club clinched qualification into the Copa Libertadores, which is equivalent to the South American Champions League.

And boy did it happen in thrilling fashion.

Chapecoense fell behind Coritiba early in the first half before equalizing before halftime. Then, in the sixth minute of stoppage time, striker Tulio de Melo’s header finished off a clever (and fortunate) build-up to win the match (via UOL Esporte):

The result marked the sixth win in 10 matches to finish the season for Chapecoense, which also had four draws in that span. It hadn’t lost since Oct. 15 against Flamengo, after which manager Gilson Kleina was brought aboard to right the ship. And right it he did, lifting Chapecoense all the way into eighth place and into an automatic berth into Copa Libertadores.

The three players who survived last year’s crash, Neto, Jackson Follman and Alan Ruschel, celebrated on the pitch after the game, though none played in the match:

Chapecoense’s resiliency has been nothing short of inspirational, and it hasn’t been done alone. In Brazil, heavy turnover is common at clubs after a given season, and many of the clubs around Brazil’s Serie A did loan deals with Chapecoense to help fill out the roster. Former players came back to the club, too.

And for as unstable as the manager position has been — Kleina is the fourth of the season — Chapecoense’s debut foray into the Copa Libertadores will bring with it monetary prizes that will be invaluable to a club resetting itself after tragedy.

Chapecoense will begin that competition on either Jan. 30 or Feb. 1 of next year. In the meantime, they’ve more than earned the right to celebrate and commemorate.

Joey Gulino is the editor of FC Yahoo and moonlights as a writer. Follow him on Twitter at @JGulinoYahoo.