Rio de Janeiro: Tragedy-stricken Chapecoense earned a place in the 2018 Copa Libertadores qualification rounds by beating Coritiba 2-1 in the last match of the Brazilian Serie A football season.
In a dramatic finale at Chapecoense’s Arena Conda on Sunday, veteran forward Tulio de Melo scored in second-half stoppage time to ensure a happy ending to a harrowing year for the small club from southern Brazil. The result meant Coritiba were relegated to Serie B, reports Xinhua news agency.
Nineteen Chapecoense players and all of their coaching staff died in November 2016 when their charter plane ran out of fuel and crashed in Colombia. Just six of the 77 passengers survived.
Chapecoense used three different coaches in 2017 and spent most of the season battling to avoid the relegation places.
Under current coach Gilson Kleina, they are now unbeaten in their past 10 league matches dating back to mid-October.
Tulio, who left Chapecoense in December 2015 to join Sport Recife before returning in January, paid tribute to victims of the tragedy after his matchwinning header.
“I just want to dedicate this to the families of all our friends who left us,” an emotional Tulio said.
Alan Ruschel, the only survivor of the crash to have already resumed playing, described the achievement as “amazing”.
He published a photo on Instagram alongside fellow survivors Helio Neto and Jackson Follmann. The beaming trio made an L shape with their hands in reference to the Copa Libertadores.
Ruschel, who has played five Brazilian Serie A matches since returning to action in July, was an unused substitute on Sunday.
Other Brazilian teams to qualify for the 2018 Copa Libertadores — the South American version of the UEFA Champions League — were Serie A champions Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos, Gremio, Cruzeiro, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama.
Coritiba, Avai, Ponte Preta and Atletico Goianiense were relegated.