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Colombian bar pays homage to soccer players killed in crash

Colombian bar pays homage to soccer players killed in crash

MEDELLIN, Colombia — It's just like many little sports bars around the world: Photos of members of a favourite team line the walls, young men smiling proudly in their uniforms.

In this case, though, it's a team from the other side of the continent — and one with a tragic connection to the residents here in the Colombian city of Medellin.

All but three of the photos are in sombre black and white, honouring players who died when a charter plane went down near Medellin on Nov. 28, wiping out nearly the entire Chapecoense team from Brazil.

The tragedy shook the soccer world and resonated especially strongly in this Andean city. For one Colombian couple, the best way to pay homage to the players was to open a bar named for the team.

The owners serve food on napkins with the team's name and hand out keychains with Chapecoense's green-and-white logo while games featuring teams from around the world play in the background.

"People come here every day," said Juan David Pemberty, 25, one of the owners. "They feel a bit of nostalgia. They feel a bit of happiness to see that they are being paid homage to."

Chapecoense was headed to Medellin for the finals of one of South America's premier soccer tournaments. The match was supposed to cap a breakout season in which the largely unknown team from a small city in southern Brazil captivated that soccer-loving nation just two years after making it into the first division for the first time since the 1970s.

According to a leaked recording of the flight's final minutes, a pilot of the Bolivian-registered charter plane told air traffic controllers he had run out fuel and pleaded for permission to land. The plane then crashed into the Andes, killing all but six of the 77 people on board.

Pemberty and his wife reject the notion they're profiting from tragedy, or playing to morbid curiosity.

The couple had already been working on plans to open a soccer-themed bar named Red and Green, in honour of the colours of the city's two soccer teams. They say they found themselves deeply affected by the crash and decided to change plans and honour those who had died instead.

"We couldn't believe it," he said. "We were speechless."

As fans throughout the soccer world mourned the team's loss, the two set out to find a photograph of every player.

"It was difficult because it's a small team and there is almost no information about them on social media," he said.

In early February, they opened the "Chapecoense Cafe-Bar." A majority of the clients are tourists, especially Brazilians.

"They leave happy because they see that we are paying homage to something that was a part of them," Pemberty said.

Customers taking in games and snacks say the bar is a testament to how Colombians embraced the team in the aftermath of tragedy. Still fresh in many peoples' memory is how Medellin's Atletico Nacional donated the tournament title to its rivals and the last-minute stadium vigil attended by Brazil's tearful foreign minister, who had travelled to Colombia to retrieve the bodies of the crash victims.

"Chapecoense is a team that has generated a lot of emotion in us," Juan Guillermo Bastidas, a recent visitor to the bar, said. "It has brought out the best in human beings: solidarity, hope, the desire to live."


Associated Press writers Alba Tobella and Christine Armario in Bogota contributed to this report.

Luis Benavides, The Associated Press