Chapecoense crash survivor returns to pitch in Barcelona curtain-raiser
Eight months after surviving the plane crash that killed most of his Chapecoense teammates, Alan Ruschel played his first minutes of football on Monday when his Brazilian club met Barcelona in a friendly.
Ruschel and two teammates were the only Chapecoense players to not perish when the team's flight went down in Colombia last year, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.
All three were on the pitch on Monday in an emotional night at Camp Nou that was more about overcoming the tragedy that had decimated their club than about facing Lionel Messi's Barcelona.
Barcelona eased to a 5-0 win, but the result mattered little to the players, coaches, or fans.
Ruschel wore the captain's armband for Chapecoense during the 36 minutes he played before being substituted. He received a standing ovation from the crowd, which he returned by applauding with his hands held high as he slowly walked to the dugout.
Before the match Ruschel wrote on Instagram: "Today is the new beginning of my professional career."
He said he would play the match "for all those who supported me, for those who I lost, for my friends, my family".
The crowd had already saluted the Chapecoense players as their names were called before the match. Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta welcomed the visitors, telling the stadium that "today is a very special night".
Jackson Follmann and Helio Zampier Neto, the only other Chapecoense players to survive the crash, shared in a moving honorary kickoff.
Follmann, who had part of his right leg amputated from injuries in the crash, was wearing a prosthetic leg when he took the kickoff along with Neto. Neto, who played in the friendly, accompanied Follmann to the bench as they both received another wave of applause.
The game, for the Joan Gamper Trophy, is Barcelona's traditional curtain-raiser for the new season.
It was also Barcelona's first match since the departure of Neymar for Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee of 222 million euros (US$262 million) last week.
Gerard Deulofeu, a product of Barcelona's youth academy whom the club bought back this summer from Everton, took Neymar's vacant spot in the attack alongside Messi and Luis Suarez.
Deulofeu got off to a good start by opening the scoring in the 6th minute. After Sergio Busquets struck from long range, Deulofeu set up Messi for the third goal near the half-hour mark. Luis Suarez and Denis Suarez scored in the second half.
Barcelona starts the season on Sunday in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid.