SAINT PETERSBURG - Paul Pogba dedicated France's World Cup semi-final win against Belgium to the 12 boys who survived a harrowing ordeal trapped underground in Thailand.
The final five members of a young football team were rescued from a flooded Thai cave on Tuesday after spending 18 harrowing days trapped deep inside, completing an astonishing against-the-odds rescue mission that captivated the world.
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Elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs extracted the final batch of four boys, plus the 25-year-old coach, via a treacherous escape route that required them to squeeze through narrow, water-filled tunnels in darkness.
Thai cave rescue: How each boy is extracted in complex process
Following the 1-0 win in Saint Petersburg, Manchester United midfielder Pogba tweeted: "This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong." FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had invited the boys' Wild Boars football team to Sunday's World Cup final last week.
But FIFA said it had been informed "that due to medical reasons, the boys will not be in a position to travel to Moscow".
"FIFA's priority remains the health of everyone involved in the operation and we will look into finding a new opportunity to invite the boys to a FIFA event to share with them a moment of communion and celebration," a spokesman said.
#MUFC is relieved to learn that the 12 footballers and their coach trapped in a cave in Thailand are now safe. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 10, 2018
We would love to welcome the team from Wild Boars Football Club and their rescuers to Old Trafford this coming season. pic.twitter.com/5CGMoD1Msq
The Thai footballers, aged from 11 to 16, had been stuck deep underground after setting off to explore the cave with their coach after training on June 23.
FIFA also expressed condolences to the family of a Thai Navy SEAL who died after running out of oxygen during the rescue operation on Friday. "Our thoughts are with his family," FIFA said.
Touching memes celebrate success of #ThaiCaveRescue mission