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Chile miners, president, rescuers reunite — to play soccer

Image: Chile's president plays soccer with miners
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, left, controls the ball next to miner Jimmy Sanchez, right, during a friendly soccer game at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, on Monday.Roberto Candia / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera awarded the 33 rescued miners national medals on Monday, but the bigger event of the day was a friendly soccer game with Pinera, several miners and even some of the rescuers.

The miners formed Team Hope, playing against Team Operation Rescue, which included rescuers, Pinera and some of his cabinet members.

After taking a 2-0 lead, the miners — still recovering from their two-month ordeal — ran out of steam in the second half, allowing their opponents to come back hard for a 3-2 win.

"The miners are great players ... but they're a bit out of shape," Pinera joked.

Pinera also reminded the miners that he had set up the match with a wager that the loser would have to go down into the mine.

"Yup, we'll have to go back down into the mine," said miner Franklin Lobo.

"And we'll rescue you again," Pinera replied with a laugh.

The game was held at Chile's National Stadium in Santiago, and shortly after the awards ceremony.

"We are going in suits and our soccer cleats," Luis Urzua, the last miner to be rescued from within the mine, told the press before both events.

The BBC reported that the miners' team was coached by Lobo,  who was a professional player in the 1980s and 90s.

Lobo also formed part of the Chile national squad at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. He celebrated his release by demonstrating his skills with a football.

The miners' rescue one-by-one in an escape capsule hoisted through a narrow shaft 2,050 feet long and just wider than a man's shoulders, captured the world's imagination and has turned the men into celebrities, though some are still grappling with the psychological trauma of their ordeal.

Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that the miners had been inundated with invitations to visit leading European and Latin American soccer clubs.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez invited the 33 to visit the Santiago Bernabeu stadium "to celebrate their lesson of life" while Manchester United is planning a similar reception.

Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, the son of a miner, has reportedly sent a recorded message to the Chileans inviting them to Old Trafford.

Former Argentina coach Diego Maradona sent a message saying the miners' liberation after 69 days underground "was proof that miracles exist and you are one of them."

Boca Juniors coach Claudio Borghi said he would love to share a cup of tea with the men.

Another of the men, Omar Reygadas, unfurled a Colo Colo team banner as he emerged.

Perez sent 33 signed Madrid shirts to the men, printed with the words "Have strength, miners."

As soon as news broke that the miners had been found, Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa — who was born into a mining family in the Spanish region of Asturias — sent his encouragement and two signed club shirts saying, "Miners, keep your spirits up."

Last Tuesday, five of the miners proposed to their wives and girlfriends at a party in the seaside town of Caldera.

It was the group's first public reunion since their dramatic rescue after 69 days below ground.