Nantes pays emotional tribute to missing footballer
On an emotional evening in Nantes, players and fans paid tribute to missing footballer Emiliano Sala in the French team’s first match since the plane carrying the Argentine striker disappeared from radar last week.
Play was stopped in the ninth minute — the player’s squad number — of the Ligue 1 match against Saint-Etienne as players and fans took part in a minute’s applause, reducing Nantes manager Vahid Halilhodzic to tears.
Argentina flags and “Sala” scarves were waved in the stands and green armbands, symbolizing hope, were worn by players during the match.
A video featuring the 28-year-old’s highlights was played before the match and in the warm-up Nantes players wore white shirts bearing a photo of Sala and the message “On t’aime Emi” — which translates as “We love you Emi” — on the back, while a picture of the player covered the center circle.
As the players shook hands before kick-off, his name was spelled out by supporters using yellow and green cards in the stands.
Some Cardiff fans had traveled to the match, which ended in 1-1 draw, and held the same banner which was displayed before Cardiff’s English Premier League match with Arsenal Tuesday.
“We never saw you play and never saw you score but Emiliano our beautiful Bluebird we will love you forever more,” it read.
Earlier Wednesday it was revealed that seat cushions believed to be from the plane carrying the missing footballer had been found on a beach in the northwest coast of France.
As a result, an underwater search was expected to take place at the end of this week, covering four square nautical miles and taking up to three days.
The 28-year-old joined Cardiff City from French club Nantes for $19.3 million less than a fortnight ago and was traveling to the Welsh capital, having said goodbye to his former teammates, when the plane he was on board disappeared on January 21.
On Tuesday, Cardiff played Arsenal, losing 2-1, in the Welsh club’s first game since the striker went missing and a minute’s applause was also held at the Emirates Stadium before kick-off.
A crowdfunding initiative to finance a private search was launched last weekend in response to the decision by UK authorities to abandon its recovery mission last Thursday.
French World Cup star Kylian Mbappe has donated $34,000, while his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Adrien Rabiot and Marseille’s Dmitri Payet, as well as several other well known players from across Europe, have also made sizable donations to the campaign, which was set up by Sport Cover, the management agency that represents Sala.
The Guernsey Harbour head of Port Operations manager told CNN Wednesday that the private search had started to be organized but was not yet underway.