Freed from cave, but doctor's orders bar Thai boys from World Cup final

PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

The eight young footballers rescued from a cave in Thailand after more than two weeks underground are unlikely to be able to take up an offer to attend the World Cup final in Moscow, doctors said Tuesday.

The plight of the boys has prompted an outpouring of support from across the footballing world, from Brazil legend Ronaldo to England's John Stones and Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.

The emaciated and dishevelled "Wild Boars" were found after nine days of no contact on a small, muddy bank surrounded by water several kilometres inside the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand.

All had come from football training when they first went into the cave on June 23, and were wearing football shirts when they were found -- one wore an England top, another the colours of Real Madrid.

Images of the desperate group went viral, prompting FIFA boss Gianni Infantino to invite them to the July 15 showpiece in a gesture of solidarity from the footballing world and a dream to most teenage football fans.

But doctors poured cold water on the idea, saying the boys are in good shape but going through a slow and careful recovery that will see them stay in hospital for a week.

"They can't go, they have to stay in hospital for a while," Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, of the public health ministry, told reporters Tuesday when asked about the offer to attend Sunday's match.

"They're likely to watch it on television," Jedsada Chokdamrungsuk, permanent-secretary of the Ministry of Public Health.

The boys were still far from being rescued at the time the offer was made and as of Tuesday afternoon only eight had been freed as the complex mission entered its final stage.

So far no major health problems have been detected but parents will only be able to visit the first four boys using protective gear and after a period of 48 hours.

Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process

  • The 10-km long Tham Luang cave, which has been described as a labyrinth, sits near the Thai border with Myanmar.
  • Rescue divers began operations on Sunday (July 8) to extract the 12 boys and their football coach from the massive Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
  • Here's how the 12 boys might dive and walk out of the complex cave network. (Graphic Not drawn to scale)
  • The boys are located more than 4km from the mouth of the cave. Most of the boys don't know how to swim.
  • According to experts, divers required three hours to reach the boys from the mouth of the cave, Reuters reported. The boys' ordeal is expected to last 3 or more hours.
  • This undated handout photo taken recently and released by the Royal Thai Navy on July 7, 2018 shows a Thai Navy diver in the cave during rescue operations.
  • The boys will have to first dive for 400m before reaching Pattaya Beach, a chamber more than 4km from the cave's entrance. Then, they have to dive for another 130m before walking and climbing along a 400m-long dry area.
  • The first, nearly 1km-long section from where the boys have been huddling in darkness is believed to be the most difficult, requiring a long dive and crawling through mud and debris, with some crevices barely wide enough for a person.
  • The 5-km escape route cuts through dark, flooded and narrow passageways, as this still from a video circulating online shows.
  • How each boy will be tethered to the 2 adult rescue divers. Once past the first stretch, the boys' escape route forks east at a T-junction, and they must scrabble over some diverse terrain including giant boulders, sand and slippery rocks with sudden cliff-like drops and further submerged passageways.
  • The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.
  • The biggest crisis spot is a 38-cm-wide crevice close to the T-junction, known as Sam Yaek Junction.
  • "The hole is really small, I have to take off my air tank to crawl through it," a 25-year-old Thai Navy Seal told Reuters before the rescue attempt. "As I do, I feel the edges of the hole on both my back and chest."
  • Rescue divers will have to remove their scuba tanks and roll them along while guiding the boys through. After that though, the tunnels widen, the waters subside, and walking is even possible.
  • There are several 'choke points' in the complex cave network. After the dreaded T-junction, the rest of the journey is expected to be relatively safe as they will have reached a forward operating base inside the cave.
  • Ambulances wait at the mouth of the cave to whisk the boys away to hospital when they emerge.
  • Divers resuming the rescue mission on Monday (July 9).
  • Police and military personnel use umbrellas to cover around a stretcher near a helicopter and an ambulance at a military airport in Chiang Rai on July 9, 2018.
  • Rescuers venturing into the cave in a photo released on July 7 by the Thai Royal Navy.
  • The high-risk operation at the Tham Luang caves paused overnight on Sunday (July 8) as rescuers recovered and oxygen tanks were replenished along the route.
  • Torchlight only affords visibility up to three feet in the murky waters.
  • A nearby hospital ready to receive the boys after they are rescued.