Two months ago it would have seemed a far-fetched idea that the 33 miners trapped deep below the ground would run and pass a football on the well-groomed grass of Chile’s National Stadium in Santiago.
When the men were found to be alive and well in the refuge in the San Jose mine on August 22, experts had estimated that they might be stuck there until December.
But on Monday Oct. 25, 12 days after the last of the 33 were hauled to safety in a speedy and successful rescue watched around the world, they were playing against Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Minister of mining Laurence Golborne and others who had been part of the operation to return them to the surface from 700 meters underground.
The extraordinary match played out over two halves of 20 minutes with a 16-man lineup and President Piñera playing as center forward against the men he had invited to the match as they were recuperating in a hospital in Copiapó.
The men had surprised many with how fit and healthy they appeared upon their rescue. They provided further proof during the match that they are in good health.
In the first half, former Chilean national team player Franklin Lobos, 52, known as the ‘Magic Mortar’ because of his powerful free kicks during his years playing football, opened the scoring when he drilled a long-distance shot into the back of the net.
Then early in the second half, Raul Bustos, 40, who had the responsibility of setting up the water supply system in the mine, finished off a quick attacking move to add a second for the team wearing the white jerseys, prompting chants of «Viva Chile» from the stands.
But team Rescue Operation was not to be denied as President Piñera scored the first of three consecutive goals in the half to claim victory for the red jerseys.
“We won the cup, we won the game and saved our honor», said President Piñera after the match as he stood next to Lobos.
Earlier in the day, the miners had been honoured at La Moneda, the Presidential Palace. They were handed a Chilean flag and a Bicentennial Medal, as well as a miniature replica of the Phoenix 2 capsule in which they were winched to the surface.