Emiliano Sala’s family, friends pay their final respects at funeral in Argentina


People attend a memorial service on Feb. 16, 2019, in Progreso, Argentina, for Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash in January 2019 in the English Channel. EPA-EFE/Javier Escobar

BUENOS AIRES.- Family and friends of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash last month in the English Channel, paid their final respects at a memorial service Saturday in his hometown of Progreso, Argentina.

«It’s too tough what we’re dealing with. This is a town that’s in bad shape. From this day forward, Emi will be with us every day,» Progreso’s mayor, Julio Muller, said.

That small town of 3,000 inhabitants where Sala lived from the age of four has been virtually paralyzed for the past few weeks leading up to Saturday’s wake and funeral, in which people paid their last respects before his body is cremated.

The service was held at the installations of Club San Martin de Progreso, where the striker got his start in the sport.

«Everything’s stopped … When we saw the news we didn’t want it to be Emi, but we wanted one thing and destiny another,» Muller said.

Sala’s body arrived in Argentina on Friday along with some family members who were in France during the search for the remains of the light aircraft that disappeared on Jan. 21.

The wreckage was found on Feb. 3 and Sala’s body was recovered and identified four days later.

«He’s from here (Progreso, a town in the central province of Santa Fe). He’s a part of us and our history,» Sala’s aunt, Mirta Tafarel, said.

She also said it was important to clarify what caused the plane to plunge into the sea while carrying Sala from Nantes, France, to Cardiff, Wales.

Sala, who played for Ligue 1 club FC Nantes from 2015 to 2019, had returned to that French city after signing a new contract with Cardiff City. The plane crashed as he was flying back to Wales for his first training session with the Premier League club.

Among those making the trip to Progreso were officials and players from Cardiff City, which had paid a club-record, 17-million-euro ($19.2-million) transfer fee to acquire him, and from Nantes, where he enjoyed his greatest success.

Nicolas Higuain, Sala’s former agent and the brother of Argentine soccer star Gonzalo Higuain, also attended the wake.

«Emiliano was a very good person, easy-going. He gave his all. He was an amazing guy. The truth is you see this ending and you ask ‘Why?’ He did everything to help his family and forge a dignified career as a soccer player,» Higuain said.

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