Chapecoense duo Alan Ruschel and Neto eye return as first friendly looms

Chapecoense winger Alan Ruschel and defender Neto, who were among the six survivors of the plane crash that killed 71 people in November, have expressed hope that they will be able to resume playing.

On Saturday, a rebuilt Chapecoense team will play their first match since the disaster when they host a friendly against fellow Brazilian side Palmeiras.

Ruschel, Neto and goalkeeper Jakson Follmann were the only players to survive among the 22 on board the plane that slammed into the Andes mountains as it headed to the city of Medellin to face Colombian team Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana final.

While none of the three will be in any position to take part against Palmeiras, they have all said they would like to be involved again in some capacity in the future.

Neto, who spent more than 10 hours in the plane wreckage before being rescued, recently took his first steps without support.

He has already visited the club and will be an inspiration for Chape's new players in a busy season. Their 2017 commitments include defending their title in the Santa Catarina state league, keeping the team up in Brazil's first division, playing for the first time in the prestigious Copa Libertadores -- the continent's No. 1 tournament -- and fundraising in friendlies, including one against Barcelona.

"If I didn't believe I could recover, I will get depressed," Neto told reporters. "Doctors said I might return this year, but I don't know whether my knees are still up for it.

"I will be here to give support to the players that come. It's not easy to represent all those who died, but I want to be fit to play so I can be more than a symbol. I want to make a real contribution."

Ruschel is the player in the best shape for a return. He expects to be back within six months, but no doctor says it will definitely happen.

"I will do all that I can to play again, and I will be patient to get there," Ruschel said. In tears, he said he has no recollection of the accident.

"I was in the front seats, then I changed with a friend of ours that is now gone," he said. "I am pretty sure that that made me survive, because our goalkeeper Jakson Follmann was next to me and he also escaped. It was Follmann who told me to sit next to him, so I guess he also saved my life. I will have to live with this feeling forever."

Follmann will not play for Chape again. He had part of his right leg amputated and is still going through minor surgery. He is considering becoming a Paralympian and a member of Chape's staff.

He has avoided talking about the future, but is not as gloomy as many about his current state.

"I choose life over the leg," he told doctors during his recovery. "We will manage this easily."

Rafael Henzel, another of the six survivors, is in a position to resume his former duties.

Henzel has worked at Chapecoense matches since 2012, and is the voice of the team from the remote, southern Brazilian city of Chapeco. After 20 days in a hospital, seven broken ribs, multiple scars -- one over his right eye -- and pneumonia, Henzel went back to work at the radio station just over a week ago.

On Saturday, he will return to the stadium to broadcast the friendly, even though his left foot is still in a cast.

"The stairway at the Arena Conda is very steep, but I have extra motivation to be in that stadium again and see players wearing our shirt, the fans. It won't be that stairway that will stop me," he told The Associated Press after his morning show on radio Oeste Capital.

Recalling the crash, he said: "When I woke up at the crash site, I became aware of what had happened. Initially, I thought I was dreaming but then, shortly after, you start to realise that the plane had crashed."