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Thai cave boys get VIP treatment at Manchester United

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily UK | Updated: 2018-10-29 22:37
Thai coach Ekkapol Chantawong (C) and members of the "Wild Boars" soccer team take their seats in the stand for the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on Sunday. Paul ELLIS / AFP

Twelve boys from Thailand who grabbed the world's attention in July when they were trapped in a flooded cave have realized a long-held ambition with a VIP visit to the Old Trafford stadium that is home to Manchester United.

The boys, all members of a Thai youth soccer team called the Wild Boars, were first thought to have died when caves they were visiting with their coach were hit by flash flooding. But, after a marathon search and complex rescue operation, they were found and brought out by an international team of cave divers a staggering 18 days after they were reported missing.

On Sunday, they watched Manchester United host Everton after being invited by the club's executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. Woodward extended the invitation soon after the boys were rescued but they were not fit to travel at the time.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Monday that the boys also hugged Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and met players at United's training ground on Saturday, the day before the regular season game. ABC News said they took selfies with stars, including Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial, and Ashley Young. Sky News said the boys, who are ranged in age between 11 and 17, gasped and cheered when Mourinho entered the room.

For the match, they wore red-and-white United scarves and warm black training tops and sat in the directors' box.

In the three months since their ordeal, the boys spent time in hospital recovering before appearing at various events, including the United States talk show Ellen and the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the Ellen show, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a soccer player who now suits up for LA Galaxy, made a surprise appearance and told the boys they were "probably the best team in the world".

They also got to play soccer at Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires against a River Plate junior team.

They saw United beat Everton by a score of 2 to 1 in the English Premier League matchup.

Their visit was tinged with sadness, however, because they participated in a moment of silence in memory of their compatriot, Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter crash on Saturday along with two members of his staff and two pilots after watching Leicester City, the team he owned, play a home match.

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