Nantes fans leave emotional tributes to Sala ahead of first game since plane disappearance

Emiliano Sala Tribute
The Ligue 1 club face Saint-Etienne on Wednesday night and have been leaving tributes and messages for the Cardiff City striker at their home ground

Nantes supporters have been leaving their tributes to Emiliano Sala following the disappearance of the Cardiff City striker's plane last week.

The Ligue 1 side, Sala's former club before he became Cardiff's record signing, face Saint-Etienne on Wednesday evening in what is their first game since the 28-year-old went missing while travelling to Wales on January 21.

Sala was heading back to Cardiff to join up with the Bluebirds having originally visited Nantes to say goodbye to his team-mates following confirmation of his move to the Premier League side.

His plane disappeared over the English Channel between France and the UK, however, with no trace of either Sala or pilot David Ibbotson having been found since then.

After search and rescue operations in the UK attempting to locate the aircraft were called off on January 24, Sala's family led an emotional plea for efforts to continue as they held out hope that the player could still be found.

That has led to a crowdfunding effort successfully raising money for an underwater search for the plane, with over 4,500 people having donated to raise €300,000.

With Sala having been in the thoughts of many supporters across Europe since his disappearance, the player's sister Romina visited the Cardiff City stadium after tributes were left underneath the Fred Keenor statue.

Cardiff played their first match since Sala's disappearance in Tuesday's Premier League defeat to Arsenal, with supporters and players of both sides honouring the player with a minute's silence prior to kick-off.

Emiliano Sala Tribute

Emiliano Sala Tribute

Emiliano Sala Tribute

Bluebirds fans also held aloft yellow cards as a symbol of solidarity with Sala's former club Nantes, while the Gunners included a special tribute to the striker by adding him on the back of their matchday programme, alongside a symbol of a daffodil.

Cardiff chief executive Ken Choo explained the use of the daffodil on Friday, highlighting its significance for both Wales and Nantes.

"It is a yellow flower, the flower of Wales and has significance to Nantes," he said. "We feel for FC Nantes, their fans and players.

Emiliano Sala Tribute

"They definitely know Emiliano better than we do and it is tougher for them at this point in time."

And Nantes fans have been honouring their former striker, with Sala having scored 48 goals in 133 games in all competitions during a three-and-a-half-year spell with the club.

Supporters left mementoes including flowers, shirts and pictures, while messages of solidarity were also present outside the gates to their Stade de la Beaujoire stadium ahead of the game with Saint-Etienne.