CHIANG RAI • The 12 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 yesterday.
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.
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 threw cold water on the idea, saying that 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," Dr Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong of the Public Health Ministry told reporters yesterday when asked about the offer to attend Sunday's match.
In some consolation for the boys, however, English Premier League side Manchester United have invited the football team to visit Old Trafford.
"#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. We would love to welcome the team from Wild Boars Football Club and their rescuers to Old Trafford this coming season," the club tweeted on its official account.
Doctors who were attending to the eight boys who were rescued on Sunday and Monday have said they are in good health.
One of the boys had a heartbeat that was too slow, and some had low white blood cell counts, but they have since been stabilised.
Two are being treated for minor lung infections, while all were treated for rabies and given tetanus shots. They are being kept in quarantine and have only met their parents from behind glass panels due to the risk of infection. They are likely to be kept in hospital for a week for further tests.
A nutritionist is monitoring their diet and has recommended that they eat nothing spicy or salty - despite the boys' cravings for spicy basil pork and rice, and grilled pork. Some asked for chocolate bread for breakfast yesterday, officials said.
A foreign diver involved in the mission to save the boys and their football coach hailed the children as "incredibly strong", and described their treacherous escape journey as unprecedented.
"They are getting forced to do something that no kid has ever done before. It is not in any way normal for kids to go cave diving at age 11," Mr Ivan Karadzic, who runs a diving business in Thailand, told the BBC in an interview that was published online yesterday.
Mr Karadzic, who the BBC reported was stationed near a difficult stretch of the cave about half-way along the escape route to replace oxygen tanks and help guide people through, said the rescue workers had feared the worst.
"I cannot understand how cool these small kids are, you know? Thinking about how they have been kept in a small cave for two weeks, they haven't seen their mums. Incredibly strong kids. Unbelievable, almost."