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Mexican factory churning out Messi, Neymar masks

A worker arranges latex masks of football players at a factory in Jiutepec, Morelos State, Mexico © AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

JIUTEPEC, Mexico, May 4 – A Mexican factory is churning out rubber Neymars, Messis and Ronaldos ahead of the World Cup, racing to meet demand for life-like masks of a dream team of football giants.

An eclectic lineup rounds out the roster of 12 famous football faces being immortalized in latex at the Grupo Rev factory in the city of Jiutepec, in central Mexico: retired legends Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane, current stars Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Franck Ribery, and Mexican favorites Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Jorge Campos.

“A lot of people have been asking for our masks because they’re planning to go to the World Cup,” said Diego Esponda, an executive at the company.

“Mexican fans always stand out for putting on the biggest party, and we think these masks are an accessory that’s going to get a lot of attention,” he told AFP in the factory’s design studio.

View of a latex mask of former football star Diego Maradona at a factory in Jiutepec, Morelos State, Mexico © AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

To select the factory’s dream team, workers held a World Cup-style “qualifying round” to narrow down an initial field of 20 candidates, said Esponda.

They consulted family and friends to decide on the most recognized and popular players.

“(Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo are the most requested. In Mexico, Chicharito is also in high demand,” he said.

The masks retail for about $13 each.

The factory made an initial run of 1,000 each for Barcelona star Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo — and they are almost sold out already.

The other footballers got runs of 200 to 500 masks each, for a total of about 6,000.

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View of latex masks of football players (L to R back to front) Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery, Lionel Messi, Javier Hernandez, Jorge Campos, Pele, Hirving Lozano, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Diego Armando Maradona, Zinedine Zidane are displayed at a factory in Jiutepec, Morelos State, Mexico © AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

Workers mostly make the masks by hand. First they sculpt the faces in clay, then make a plaster mold, then cast the masks in latex and hand-paint them.

“There’s very little machinery involved — about 15 percent of the process,” said Esponda.

The masks are mostly aimed at the Mexican market, but the company has received orders from Spain, France, Sweden and the United States, he said.

The factory, which made more than a million masks last year, is also selling likenesses of Mexican politicians in the run-up to the country’s July 1 elections.

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