Nantes paid tribute to their former striker Emiliano Sala on an emotionally charged night at the Stade de la Beaujoire as they held St Etienne to a 1-1 draw.
Sala and David Ibbotson were remembered throughout Nantes’ first match since the Piper Malibu plane carrying the Argentinian striker and the pilot disappeared over the English Channel, two days after completing a £15million move to Cardiff.
Nantes struggled to impose themselves on their high-flying opponents and fell behind to Remy Cabella’s tap-in at the start of the second half, but Waris Majeed ensured a share the spoils with 20 minutes remaining.
Fans laid flowers by a poster of Sala at the ground prior to kick-off, while in the warm-up, players from both sides wore t-shirts with an image of the Argentinian with the caption “pray for Sala” on the reverse.
A number of Cardiff fans also travelled to Nantes to show their respects to Sala, just one day after their first match since the tragedy.
A cover on the centre circle also depicted the same image of the 28-year-old, while Nantes played a video of the striker’s goals during his spell at the club as the home side came out wearing shirts with his name on.
As the players conducted the pre-match handshake, three stands put on card displays – one showing the number nine to honour Sala’s squad number during his time at the French club, another with the striker’s name and the third depicting the Argentina flag before the crowd observed a minute’s silence.
However, St Etienne, who are fourth in Ligue 1, came close to taking a fifth-minute lead when Wahbi Khazri almost scored direct from a corner, only for goalkeeper Maxime Dupe to claw out his attempt at the near post.
In the ninth minute, referee Frank Schneider stopped play for a minute’s applause from the crowd and players, which reduced Nantes boss Vahid Halilhodzic to tears.
The match struggled to pick up in tempo thereafter until Nantes almost broke the deadlock in the 26th minute when striker Kalifa Coulibaly was free inside the six-yard box but somehow headed wide.
Both sides were then reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time when Fabio and Yann M’Vila were dismissed during a flashpoint in stoppage time after the Brazilian defender tried to grab the ball from the St Etienne midfielder.
St Etienne took the lead in the 58th minute through Cabella, when his dinked effort was cleared off the line before he tapped in the rebound.
However, Nantes were level 12 minutes later with a superb counter-attack as they worked their way from their own penalty area before Coulibaly found Waris to slide home and spark emotional celebrations.
Yellow and green scarves were thrown in the air as fans ran to the bottom of the stands in jubilation, with goalscorer Waris holding up a shirt which translated to “We love you, Emi” to the Nantes faithful.
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