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Brazil's Chapecoense pays tribute to crash victims

Fans gathered at the stadium of Brazilian football club Chapecoense on Tuesday night, paying their respects and praying for the victims of a plane crash a year ago that killed 19 of the team's players.

A vigil is due to be held in the early hours of Wednesday at the Arena Conda stadium, where photos are being displayed of all 71 people killed in the crash.

A Roman Catholic mass will follow later at the main church in the city of Chapeco.

Chapecoense's plane went down en route to the club's first ever Copa Sudamericana final in Colombia, after it ran out of fuel near Medellin in the north of the country.

The southern Brazilian team was later awarded the title, South America's second most prestigious soccer tournament.

Chape, as the club is universally known, issued a statement to explain why the one-year anniversary of the tragedy should be marked discreetly around Chapeco.

"It is best to choose reflection and seek peace," the club said.

"Our eternal champions deserve all the tributes, but on this day we need to be respectful with those that remain and with the good memories that need to be eternal."

The club's quiet tribute will include 71 torches that will be lit on the pitch of its 20,000-seat stadium.

Several families of the victims have complained that the club has yet to pay them damages for the accident while the club has acknowledged the debts and said it is working to resolve the issue.

Many relatives of Chapecoense's air crash victims have struggled to get their lives back on track, but Ilaides Padilha, mother of late goalkeeper Danilo, found a constructive way to cope with her loss.

"I opened this YouTube channel for mothers like me, there are too many losing their kids for stupid reasons in Brazil," Ms Padilha said, referring to the violence in the country.

On the pitch, Chape is in better shape than many expected and is holding its own.

After refusing to accept immunity from relegation in Brazil's top division, the team could qualify on Sunday for South America's prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament.

In May, Chape successfully defended its Santa Catarina state championship.

Chapeco's vibrant meat-processing industry and other Brazilian clubs helped to rebuild the team.

"The effort we made this year was beyond normal, so I can't be anything but very happy for the club," said club chairman Plinio David de Nes, a club director who was one of several that was supposed to be aboard the flight.

"But the loss of the families, of the friends, that is still with us."

Chape's season has had other glorious moments, including a friendly against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in August - a memorable 5-0 defeat.

Defender Alan Ruschel, one of the players who survived the crash, returned to football in that match.

Two other survivors are working hard to make a comeback in 2018.

Defender Neto hopes to play for Chape early in the year, and goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who lost part of his right leg, is now training to become a Brazilian Paralympic athlete.

AP

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