Representing South America at the Fifa Club World Cup has added significance following the plane crash that killed most of the Chapecoense team, according to the Atletico Nacional defender Felipe Aguilar.
The Colombian club were due to play Chapecoense in the Copa Sudamericana final but the Brazilian team’s plane crashed on 28 November, killing almost all on board.
The directors of Atletico asked the governing body of South American football 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 honour 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 been difficult, no doubt,” Rueda said. “Chapecoense are our brothers. We must win it for them.”
Nacional qualified for the Club World Cup by winning South America’s most prestigious club competition, the Copa Liberdatores, in July. They face Japanese champions Kashima Antlers today.
Kashima have already knocked out Auckland City and Mamelodi Sundowns in the early rounds at the Club World Cup.
“They’re a team who play with a lot of intensity,” Rueda said. “They’re well organised, strong on the counterattack and they’ll give us a very physical game.”
The winner of today’s semi-final will likely face European champions Real Madrid in Sunday’s final in Yokohama. Real face Mexican team Club America in the other semi-final tomorrow.
Although the expaned Club World Cup has never quite caught the public’s imagination in the UK, European teams have been the most successful in the expanded tournament, with eight triumphs. While it is not considered as high on the priority list for European clubs as it is for the South American sides, Real Madrid will be keen to emulate Barcelona who won the tournament last year, defeating South American champions River Plate in the final.
Atletico Nacional feature 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.”