Freed Chilean miners to face Pinera on soccer pitch

COPIAPO, Chile (BestGrowthStock) – Chilean authorities may have greeted them with oxygen tanks and stretchers, but President Sebastian Pinera has challenged 33 freed miners to a physical contest — a soccer match.

The men — who were freed after enduring more than two months underground after an August 5 mine collapse — have been invited to play Pinera and 10 members of his cabinet on October 25. It was not clear where the game would be played.

“The team that wins will stay in La Moneda (presidential palace). The team that loses goes back to the mine,” he joked Thursday in a visit to the hospital where the men are recovering.

Pinera may regret that wager.

Several of the miners are avid soccer players, including former professional Franklin Lobos, who was juggling a ball with his feet within seconds of emerging from the mine on Wednesday.

The rescue operation captured the world’s attention as each miner was hoisted up one-by-one through 2,050 feet of rock in a metal capsule after 69 days trapped.

Pinera played a similar friendly soccer match against a team led by Bolivian President Evo Morales in March before the Chilean leader took office.

Soccer was an important point of unity and distraction for the trapped miners. They set up a small projector in their refuge to watch videos of football greats Maradona and Pele and followed a live feed of the Chilean national team’s play through a bore hole to the surface.

(Reporting by Juana Casas; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Paul Simao)

Freed Chilean miners to face Pinera on soccer pitch