The 12 Thai boys from the “Wild Boars” soccer team who were rescued after being trapped in a flooded cave network in northern Thailand played a friendly match on Sunday at Argentina’s Monumental Stadium, which hosted the 1978 World Cup final.
The boys, aged between 11 and 16, arrived at Buenos Aires on Friday after being invited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to attend the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, which are taking place from October 6 to 18.
The team was accompanied by the coach who also became trapped in the Tham Luang caves for more than two weeks in June this year. Wearing an all purple kit, the “Wild Boars” played leading Argentine club River Plate’s Argentina’s Under-13 team in a game that finished 3-3.
As the team entered the pitch, they were applauded and given a guard of honor.
“The boys are very pleased to be here and very excited,” head of the Thai Olympic Delegation, Werachon Sukondhapatipak said in a statement.
“During the rescue operation so many people from around the world came to Thailand and collaborated to rescue them. They feel that they owe a debt to everyone.”
The boys were given a VIP tour of the stadium’s museum and changing rooms before the match.
The Monumental Stadium staged the 1978 World Cup final where Argentina became champions for the first time after defeating the Netherlands 3-1.
“The best players in the world have played here, the best pop singers have sung here,” Buenos Aires’ mayor, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta said.
Larreta said the match shows how sports can promote peace and friendship “all over the world.”
“It is very powerful and a good example of what sports can do. You can feel the Olympic spirit across this city and this kind of thing helps so much.”
River Plate’s chariman, Rodolfo D’Onofrio said it was “wonderful” to see the two teams play against each other.
“It’s emotional because the whole world was feeling with them at the time,” International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach said.
“I was almost in daily contact with our IOC members in Thailand (during the rescue).”
The boys and their coach were successfully rescued between July 8 and 10 after international cave diving experts evacuated them one-by-one.
They hadn’t eaten any food during the nine-day ordeal and drank murky water from inside the cave.
“To see them now enjoying life and enjoying sport, it is a great experience,” Bach said.
“It is what sport is about. This determination to never give up, to have faith that you can make it. So this was the main reason why we invited them here, because this was Olympic spirit at its best.”
Football’s world governing body FIFA had invited the boys and their coach to attend the World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia on July 15, but due to medical reasons they were unable to go.