FIFA boss invites Thai cave boys to World Cup final

FIFA boss invites Thai cave boys to World Cup final
PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has invited the Thai boys' football team trapped in a cave to the World Cup final, as messages of support poured in from top players.

Infantino said he hoped the Wild Boars team, who were stranded by rising floodwaters two weeks ago, would be rescued in time to watch the final in Moscow on July 15.

"If, as we all hope, they are reunited with their families in the coming days and their health allows them to travel, FIFA would be delighted to invite them to attend the 2018 World Cup final as our guests," he wrote in a letter to the head of the Football Association of Thailand.

"I sincerely hope that they will be able to join us at the final, which will undoubtedly be a wonderful moment of communion and celebration."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Photo: AFP

The Thai footballers, aged 11-16, have been stuck in darkness deep underground after setting off to explore the cave with their 25-year-old coach after training on June 23.

The players remain trapped despite being reached this week by cave-diving rescuers, who released footage of them looking emaciated but calm, some wearing football shirts.

Their harrowing ordeal coincides with the World Cup in Russia and it has not escaped the attention of players.

"I've been speaking about it with a few of the boys," said England defender John Stones, according to British media.

"It's so sad to see where they are and we hope they get out safe and sound."

Japan's World Cup squad tweeted a video urging the team to "Hang in there!", while Brazil legend Ronaldo called their plight "terrible".

"The world of football hopes that someone can find a way to take these kids out of there," he said, according to CNN.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp urged them to "stay strong and know we are with you", in a video message sent to CNN.

"We are following all the news and hoping every second that you see daylight again," Klopp said. "We are all very optimistic that it will happen, hopefully in minutes, hours or the next few days."

Meanwhile, the Croatian Football Federation said it was "awed" by the team's calm under pressure.

"We are awed by the bravery and strength that these young boys and their coach have shown amidst such frightening circumstances," it said on its website.

Many fans on social media said the boys deserved the World Cup trophy for the way they have handled their ordeal.

All 13 members of Thai junior football team found in flooded cave

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    Parents of the boys trapped in the Chiang Rai cave shed tears of joy and relief on Wednesday morning as they watched a video of them being treated for minor injuries.

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    The Royal Thai Navy SEALS shot the video and posted it on their “ThaiSEAL” Facebook page, showing the 12 boys noticeably thinner and looking exhausted.

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    But the boys swaddled in silvery blankets proclaim themselves in good health in the clip.

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    Their parents watched the video while they were waiting to talk to the boys via a specially rigged phone system.

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    They reaffirmed their love for the children and said they were forgiven for going astray, since none of them could have expected the June 23 cave excursion would turn into a nail-biting 10-day drama, with no clear end yet in sight.

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    Attention has now turned to how to get the group back out through several kilometers of dangerously flooded tunnels.

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    The navy has raised the possibility that the 13 could be in the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province until the flood waters recede, at the end of the rainy season in four months.

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    But others say the boys could be out in a matter of days if the weather is on their side and water can be pumped out of the cave complex, and if they can be taught to use scuba gear.

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    Kobchai Boonarana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department, said it was up to the rescue team in the cave to decide whether and when the boys would be strong enough to tackle the journey out.

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    “We miss them and want to see them get out very soon,” one parent said as the video played. “They look thinner, but we’re happy they’re safe.”

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    Rescuers found all 12 boys and their football coach alive inside the flooded Tham Luang Cave Monday night.

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    The 13 victims from a local football club, Mu Pa Academy Mae Sai, have been stranded inside the cave in Chiang Rai province because of flash floods since June 23.

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    The group, mostly seated and with baggy football shirts pulled over their knees and illuminated by torchlight, asked for food and to leave the cave immediately, according to the video taken late Monday and shared on the official Facebook page of the Thai Navy SEALS.

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    The group appeared exhausted, rake thin, sensitive to the light but lucid, with some speaking faltering English to try to communicate with the unidentified diver.

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    Family members celebrate while camping out near Than Luang cave following news all members of children's football team and their coach were alive in the cave at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province late July 2, 2018.

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    The Chiang Rai governor praised and gave credits to two British cave diving experts who found the missing team. He did not mention the names but it is understood to be John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (pic, in blue).

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    Three British cave-divers, Richard William Stanton (L), John Volanthen (2nd-L) and Robert Charles Harper (3rd-L) arrive at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park near the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai on June 27, 2018

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    12 boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year old assistant football coach went missing on Saturday after they decided to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai province,

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    despite a sign warning visitors that the maze of passages and chambers was prone to flooding.

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    Bicycles and football shoes belonging to the boys were found near the entrance, and rescue workers think handprints inside the cave could have been left by the group.

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    But the search has so far yielded no other trace.

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    The race to find the boys has gripped the Southeast Asian nation

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    International rescue teams, including one sent by the United States Pacific Command (PACOM),

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    are assisting the Thai army, navy and police in a search operation that has been hampered by heavy rain.

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    Plans to drill into the mountainside overnight to drain water from inside the vast cave complex have been partially successful.

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    The 10-kilometre cave is one of Thailand's longest. Visitors are usually only allowed up to 800 meters inside the cave, which has a reputation for being difficult to navigate.

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    Exhausted family members have been keeping vigil near the cave as they await news about their loved ones.

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    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site, offering encouragement to rescuers and comfort to relatives.

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    "Whatever can be done, do it, the government will back it," said Prayuth.

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    "They're athletes. They're strong," he told the boys' relatives in an attempt to comfort them.

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