Emotion high as Nantes fans pay tribute to Emiliano Sala
Nantes fans showed their devotion to missing Argentine striker Emiliano Sala, chanting his name non-stop during an emotional home game against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday.
In the first match for Nantes since Sala’s disappearance on Jan. 21, the referee also halted play after nine minutes so the crowd could applaud him and chant his name over and over again.
“It was a very special night, we played more for him than for us,” Nantes defender Diego Carlos said after the 1-1 draw. “We gave everything for him.”
Fans broke out into long and sustained chants of “Emiliano Sala, Emiliano Sala, Emiliano, Emiliano, Emiliano Sala” around the stadium when the referee paused the match for more than one minute.
The former Nantes striker, who wore the No. 9 shirt, has been missing since a plane transporting him to the Welsh city of Cardiff went off the radar. Sala had just been signed by Premier League club Cardiff for a club-record fee.
The fans repeated his name, loud and unrelenting, after the break. This time it was a slower, more poignant refrain of “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, Em-il-ia-no Sa-la” as Nantes fans showed they will never forget him.
Nor will the players.
Moments after he equalized for Nantes in the 70th minute, Nantes striker Majeed Waris dropped to his knees in front of the home fans and raised his shirt over his head to show Sala’s name on the t-shirt underneath.
Remy Cabella put Saint-Etienne ahead in the 58th, but modestly celebrated his goal by raising his arm before lowering it quickly.
“It would have been disrespectful to celebrate,” Cabella said. “No one would have.”
Both sides had a player sent off at the end of the first half.
Emotions ran high beforehand, with players warming up wearing t-shirts with “On T’aime Emi” (We Love You Emi) written on the back and the player’s photo on the front. A giant picture of Sala was projected onto the center circle and a huge Argentine flag was unfurled in the crowd. The whole Nantes squad formed a circle moments before the match started as coach Vahid Halilhodzic spoke to the players.
Nantes players wore Sala’s name on the back of their shirts when the game kicked off at Stade de la Beaujoire. Saint-Etienne also paid their tributes.
Sala’s former Nantes teammate Yacine Bammou, who now plays for Caen and was close to Sala, was present in the stadium and television images showed him in tears before the game started.
Earlier Wednesday, accident investigators said two seat cushions have been found which are likely to have come from the plane carrying him and the pilot.
They are the first traces of the plane to be found since it disappeared over the English Channel. Sala and had gone back to France to say goodbye to his former Nantes teammates and then took a flight back in the evening.
Sala had been in the best form of his career , netting 12 league goals in 19 games for Nantes this season. He had a strong working relationship with Halilhodzic, one of the best strikers in Nantes history.
The search for Sala and the pilot was called off after a three-day air-and-sea operation near the Channel Islands failed to locate the aircraft, leading to criticism — including from Halilhodzic — and prompting Sala’s family to raise money for a private search.
Now, British authorities say French counterparts found parts of two seat cushions on a beach near Surtainville in northwest France and a vessel has been commissioned to conduct a search of the seabed starting this weekend.
In Wednesday’s other match, South Africa striker Lebo Mothiba scored twice as Strasbourg beat Bordeaux 3-2 at home to reach the League Cup final.
Strasbourg will play Guingamp on March 30.