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‘Literally a tragedy’ — Missing footballer Atsu nearly left Turkey hours before earthquake hit

ANKARA — Missing footballer Christian Atsu was scheduled to fly out of southern Turkey hours before last week's devastating earthquake, but Hatayspor's manager said the Ghanaian opted to stay with the club after scoring a winning goal in their Feb. 5 Super Lig match.

"Atsu wanted to play more and asked for permission from his coach to leave if he wasn't going to get it," Hatayspor manager Fatih Ilek told a radio channel on Friday.

"He bought a ticket to fly to Istanbul, and from there to France. He was going to look for a club to get more playing time."

The 31-year-old secured Hatayspor a 1-0 win over Kasimpasa by scoring only seconds before the final whistle.

Ilek said Atsu was unhappy because before the match against Kasimpasa, he had made only two league appearances all season.

"But the coach played him against Kasimpasa on Feb 5th, hours before the quake. Atsu played incredibly, and scored at the 90 + 7th minute," Ilek said.

The Feb. 6 earthquake has killed more than 43,000 in Turkey and Syria. Atsu, who has had stints with Premier League clubs Everton and Newcastle United, has yet to be found.

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"After the match, there was such great unity. Coach Volkan Demirel's embrace of Atsu, and Atsu's celebration both on the pitch and later in the dressing room will be forever in my eyes.

"This was his destiny. He had a ticket to go but because he scored, he changed his mind about leaving.

"He was caught in an earthquake on his happiest day. This is literally a tragedy."

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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