Atletico Nacional plays for Chapecoense at FIFA Club World Cup
SUITA, Japan (AP) — Representing South America at the Club World Cup has added significance following the plane crash that killed most of the Chapecoense team, Atletico Nacional defender Felipe Aguilar said Tuesday.
The Colombian club was to play Chapecoense in the Copa Sudamericana final but the Brazilian team's plane crashed on Nov. 28, killing almost all on board.
The directors of Atletico asked the governing body of South American soccer to award the Copa Sudamericana title to Chapecoense.
"We felt like brothers to the Brazilian team." Aguilar said. "And all of us were very happy to give them the Copa Sudamericana title. It's unfortunate this huge tragedy has occurred. We want to honor the victims and their families by winning this trophy and bringing it home."
Atletico coach Reinaldo Rueda shared the sentiments of his 23-year-old defender.
"These past few weeks have no doubt been difficult," Rueda said. "Chapecoense are our brothers. We must win it for them."
Nacional qualified for the Club World Cup by winning the Copa Liberdatores in July. They take on Japanese champion Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.
Kashima has already knocked out Auckland City and Mamelodi Sundowns.
"They're a team who play with a lot of intensity," Rueda said. "They're well organized, strong on the counterattack and they'll give us a very physical game."
The winner of Wednesday's semifinal match will likely face European champion Real Madrid in Sunday's final in Yokohama. Madrid faces Mexican team Club America in the other semifinal.
European teams have been the most successful in the tournament, with eight titles, although it is not considered as high on the priority list for European clubs as it is for the South American sides.
Atletico Nacional features goalkeeper Franco Armani, who did not concede a single goal during the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, as well as captain Alexis Henriquez and striker Miguel Borja.
"We are representing all the clubs of South America and it is a huge responsibility on our shoulders," Rueda said. "Back in Colombia and even here in Japan many people are supporting us and that give us great energy."