Japan mourns former J.League players lost in Chapecoense tragedy

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Kempes plays for JEF United Chiba in the 2014 J1 Promotion Playoff final

The Japanese football community found itself in mourning on Wednesday following the tragic air disaster that befell Brazilian club Chapecoense.

A flight carrying the Serie A participants to the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana finals against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional crashed late on Monday night, with just six survivors from the 77 passengers and crew on board.

The deaths of four players who previously belonged to Japanese clubs have been confirmed, including former JEF United Chiba striker , the top scorer in the 2013 J.League Division 2, former Kashiwa Reysol midfielder Cleber Santana, Kawasaki Frontale midfielder , and ex-Kyoto Sanga defender Thiego.

Additionally, Chapecoense manager Caio Junior was in charge of Vissel Kobe in the first half of the 2009 season.

The winner of South America’s second-tier club competition is scheduled to face 2016 J.League YBC Levain Cup champions Urawa Reds in the Suruga Bank Championship next year in , adding another connection between the East Asian nation and the club recently described as the Leicester City of .

“We offer our deepest condolences to those who have passed as well as their families and friends,” Japan Football Association chairman Kozo Tashima wrote in a statement issued on Tuesday night in Tokyo. “It is incredibly saddening that this could happen to a participant in a tournament with such close ties to Japan.”

Former teammates of the deceased players offered their own tributes:

“My first professional assist was to Kempes, and he would always thank whoever assisted him by giving them his wristwatch,” wrote JEF midfielder Yamato Machida, who played with Kempes in 2013 and 2014. “I can’t believe it, I don’t want to believe it. I pray he finds happiness in the afterlife.”