'Stay strong': Ronaldo, football stars rally round Thai cave boys

'Stay strong': Ronaldo, football stars rally round Thai cave boys

BANGKOK: Football stars around the world have urged the 12 boys and their coach trapped in a cave to "stay strong" as messages of support and concern poured in for the Thai team. 

Players from Brazil legend Ronaldo to England's John Stones said they were closely following attempts to rescue the team, whose ordeal coincides with the World Cup in Russia.

Many fans on social media said the boys deserved the World Cup trophy for their bravery after spending two weeks trapped in darkness underground.

"It is terrible news and the world of football hopes that someone can find a way to take these kids out of there," said Ronaldo at a FIFA media event, according to CNN.

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The Wild Boars team, aged 11 to 16, were trapped by rising floodwaters after setting off to explore the cave with their 25-year-old coach following training on Jun 23.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told the team, "You'll never walk alone", quoting the motto of the English side which has a large following in Thailand.

"Stay strong and know we are with you," Klopp said in a video message sent to CNN.

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

Stones said he had been discussing the cave rescue with his England teammates ahead of their World Cup quarter-final against Sweden.

"I've been speaking about it with a few of the boys," the defender said, according to British media. "It's so sad to see where they are and we hope they get out safe and sound."

Croatia's football authority 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," the Croatian Football Federation said on its website.

"These are situations that are bigger than sports, but their sporting competitiveness will help them cope with the current challenge."

World football governing body FIFA president Gianni Infantino also wrote a message of support for the boys. 

In the letter, which was posted onto Facebook by the Thailand Football Association, Infantino said FIFA had been following the news of the rescue operation and was "greatly relieved to hear the good news" that the 12 boys have been found. 

"On behalf of the international football community, I would like to join you in expressing my deepest sympathies and support to the families of the players and coach," Infantino said. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the families and communities and we hope that they will soon be embracing their loved ones and restoring their strength and confidence." 

Infantino also extended an invitation to the team to attended the World Cup final in Moscow as FIFA's guest.

"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," he said. 

"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."

READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation:  


Source: CNA/AFP/ng(aj)