A group of barefoot indigenous children have given Mexican sports fans a reason to smile with their basketball prowess, taking some of the sting out of the disappointing performance of the national soccer squad in World Cup qualifying.
The team of 11-year-old Trique Indian children from the impoverished southern state of Oaxaca, some of whom play without shoes, won the admiration of their countrymen for their authenticity after claiming first place Monday at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball in the central Argentine city of Cordoba.
The squad arrived Thursday in Mexico City and was welcomed at the airport by dozens of fans, while lawmakers in Mexico's lower house of Congress paid tribute to the children with a minute of applause.
The team is the fruit of a project in Oaxaca that aims to promote education and values through sport, benefiting 2,500 poor children from a community where many youths drop out of school early and it is not uncommon for girls to marry before the age of 15.
In Cordoba, the squad won all seven of its games and the decision of some players to go barefoot - as they customarily do in their daily lives and during training - captivated the crowds.
"The victories of the Trique team from Oaxaca's Academy of Indigenous Basketball are a source of pride for the Mexican people," President Enrique Peña Nieto said on Twitter.
The children will compete late this month in a tournament in the Dominican Republic.
The heartwarming story comes at a moment when many Mexican fans are disillusioned with the performance of the national soccer squad, which failed to directly qualify for next year's World Cup out of the CONCACAF region and must win a playoff against New Zealand to earn a spot in Brazil. EFE