Chilean miners flooded with soccer invites

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MADRID (AP) - The freed Chilean miners are being flooded with invitations to visit leading European and Latin American soccer teams, and even participate in the New York City Marathon.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez invited the 33 miners to visit Santiago Bernabeu stadium, while Manchester United is planning a similar reception.

“Right now, the first thing to do is to allow a prudent amount of time to go by so that they can recuperate from what they have lived through and later it will be a matter of fixing a date so that they can assist a match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium,” Real Madrid said Thursday.

The last of the miners was freed Wednesday, ending a 69-day ordeal in which they had been trapped more than 2,000 feet underground following a collapse on Aug. 5.

Upon hearing that miner Edison Pena jogged regularly in the tunnels that weren’t blocked by the collapse, New York City Marathon officials decided to invite him to participate in next month’s race.

“His using running as a tool to help him through that incredible challenge _ I think every runner hopes they could and would do it,” New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg said. “It takes extraordinary fortitude to have the strength to venture out in a situation like that.”

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 “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.

One of the miners, Franklin Lobo, once played professionally and celebrated his release by demonstrating his soccer skills. Another of the men, Omar Reygadas, unfurled a Colo Colo team banner.

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

“Real Madrid wants not only to invite them to whatever match they choose at the Santiago Bernabeu, but also to offer them a tribute, our affection and the recognition from our fans they deserve,” Perez said. “For us it will be an honor to be able to receive them to celebrate their triumph of life.”

Perez said he had also sent a book with photographs of Madrid players signing each shirt, and a signed invitation to the Bernabeu.

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.”

On Thursday, Villa followed that gesture with a statement on Barcelona’s website.

“I have followed the rescue like everyone else, but you have a different perspective when you have experienced this world,” Villa said. “You have a greater appreciation of what is involved and it brings back many memories of previous eras. In this case we are all happy because all the miners are safe and healthy.

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