MEXICO CITY (AFP) - President Enrique Pena Nieto praised on Friday indigenous boys who dominated a basketball tournament playing barefoot as an inspiration for Mexico and an example for its struggling national football team.
The Triqui boys basketball team have become a media sensation in Mexico since they won a youth tournament in Argentina this month, winning all seven games, with most of them playing without sneakers.
The football side, however, have drawn scorn from their own fans after winning just two out of 10 games in the last phase of their World Cup qualifying campaign, forcing them to play a last-chance play-off against New Zealand next month.
Surrounded by the young basketball champions and an indigenous girls' team from an impoverished region, Mr Pena Nieto said the children were "an inspiration to all Mexicans".
"Many Mexicans were filled with excitement in seeing this young team of boys and girls who represented our country with a distinct style, without the tennis shoes that athletes normally wear," he said.
"They caused a sensation, expectations and a huge surprise in winning," he said. "This has taught us a lesson. They showed us that when you want something, you can get it."
The Mexican leader then turned to the football team, which host New Zealand on Nov 13 before a second leg away on Nov 20, their final shot at going to the World Cup in Brazil next year.
"Forgive me for meddling in something that I shouldn't, but as President of Mexico, many Mexicans would like to give motivation to the national team," he said.
"They must feel a lot of pressure because they know that they represent an entire country that has great confidence, but I think that this confidence that the country gives them must lead them to play with great skill," he said.
Comparing the budding basketball stars to the professional football players, Mr Pena Nieto said: "Mexicans trust these young people, but we also trust our national (football) team."
A poll by the Cancha sports newspaper last week showed that 60 per cent of Mexicans preferred that the football team did not qualify for the World Cup.
But Mr Pena Nieto voiced confidence that Mexico will win a place in Brazil, saying their countrymen "want to see them play the World Cup and do well".