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El Salvador: a picture shared around the world
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El Salvador: a picture shared around the world

SAN SALVADOR (El Salvador) — El Salvador has a story to tell. It’s the story about how ten 16-year-old girls brought their country a sense of pride and how they grew with basketball. They played six games in the most recent edition of the U16 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship and, beyond the results, each of them portrayed love and passion for the game. A picture shared around the world reflects their feat.

This was the third — and consecutive — time in their history that El Salvador participated in the FIBA Americas Women’s Championships. Under the new Salvadorian Basketball Federation (FESABAL) and their President Yamil Bukele, this was the first time the U16 participated after having attended other U18 FIBA Championships.

The Salvadorians and their technical staff were aware that participating in the greatest competition in the continent against the seven best teams of the zone would be a complicated mission. Nonetheless, they were willing to tackle the challenge of representing their country.

It was in Aysén, Chile where the continental championship took place from June 16 to 22 at Polideportivo 21 de Abril. The nations participating were El Salvador, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

This was a unique opportunity for Salvadorian athletes to compete at the highest level. Although they did face nations that have more resources to prepare their teams, FESABAL showcased their courage, passion, and heart when facing these national teams. Competing against future players of the WNBA and NCAA Division 1 poses a great opportunity to improve their technical experience and leave an unforgettable impression.

“I'm thankful for the opportunity of representing our country in the FIBA Americas Championship. It’s a privilege to face world powerhouses such as the United States or Canada because what we do is learn from them and see our mistakes to improve. I feel saddened because we couldn’t get a good spot, but I still have the desire and attitude. It was a unique experience that motivated us for other tournaments, to correct our mistakes,” said Salvadorian captain Nicole García.

The group has been preparing for over two years, competing in the U14 COCABA Championship in El Salvador in April 2018, where they won the silver. In the 2019 COCABA U16 Championship in Guatemala, they were second and qualified to the U16 FIBA Americas Championship and the U17 Centrobasket, which will take place in Puerto Rico from July 7 to 11.

With two important competitions in a two-month period, the blue and white team prepared arduously to play their best part in the FIBA Americas Championship. They crossed all Central and South America to compete in the city of Aysén. Twenty-four hours, three planes and a two-hour bus went by before they could arrive at their destination in the region of Patagonia.

El Salvador was in Group B with hosts Chile, and the United States and Mexico. They began their participation against the hosts, in a venue full of people chanting the traditional “Chi, chi, chi, le, le, le” that characterizes the fans from the South American nation. Debuting in front of thousands of people was, without a doubt, a great challenge for the Salvadorians, who couldn’t manage the locals and fell 63-43.

In the second game, the blue warriors competed against the United States, the strongest rival of the competition, and who eventually took the tournament's gold. Their defeat was by a wide margin (114-19), but just in the result. The contrasts in this duel were evidenced by the physical and resource differences between both teams. However, if there was one thing they had in common, it was respect for each other. This duel was the most memorable and a picture captured all of it.

The picture taken by the communications manager and delegate of the Salvadorian national team, Gabriela Mena, captured the physical differences between both teams. The snap was shared around the world and everyone was talking about the Salvadorian girls’ participation in the competition.

"I took the photo with the intention of portraying two rivals that, despite all their physical differences, never underestimated the challenge. The United States didn’t minimize their rivals. They played to the maximum of their capabilities, and despite gaining a great advantage from the start, they remained competitive like the Salvadorians, who fought ‘till the end with the best attitude and drive,” Mena said to FIBA.basketball.

“The picture could carry a lot of metaphoric interpretations, but what it tried to do was document the story of a team of warriors that, despite adversities and differences, fought against giants and weren’t discouraged against the results and the difficulties of playing against a world powerhouse. The girls left their hearts in the court and an entire nation gave them a standing ovation valuing their courage and dedication,” she added.

There were also a lot of opinions regarding the attendance of El Salvador's team. There were messages of support on social media, but questions were also raised regarding the participation of the Salvadorian athletes against world-level teams. As games went on, these turned into positive comments that valued the team’s dedication to each game.

“I'm beyond committed to my country and to those who believe in our work. This has been one of the experiences I've enjoyed the most because we knew that we weren’t going in for the results, but for the pride of wearing the national team's jersey. We showed those who believe in us and those who don’t, that we can give a lot more,” said the team's captain.

Since starting in FESABAL, Yamil Bukele made a commitment to participate in each one of the competitions where El Salvador qualified. This is a great challenge for the Federation, but it hasn’t been in vain. In his presidency, the national teams have attended all established competitions.

“Participating in a qualifying round only brings good things for the players. On one hand, it helps them with their athletic growth, because it's not every day that they have the chance to face world powerhouses. These girls have won their right to be in this tournament and it was our obligation, as a federation, to be able to take them to Chile. We're realistic and we knew that we weren't going to win this tournament, but our idea was that this valuable experience helps these girls grow both as athletes and as people, and help them face the sports challenges of our Sub-Zone and our Central American and Caribbean Sub Sub-Zone, concluded Yamil Bukele to FIBA.basketball.

Aside from the result in the tournament (0-6) for FESABAL and Salvadorian basketball, this participation has meant the chance to be among the best eight teams of the world. Despite the results, sports and life experiences are positive because it creates more work and motivates teams from all categories — including the senior national team.