A group of boys who survived a dramatic rescue from a flooded cave in Thailand last year have been invited to the UAE as guests of honour of the Asian Cup.
The three boys and their coach will watch their national side take on India on Sunday in the country’s opening match of the month-long tournament in Abu Dhabi.
The four were part of the 13-strong Wild Boars Football Academy squad who were trapped for 18 days in caves in Chiang Rai Province in July.
Efforts to rescue the team from rising floodwaters became the focus of worldwide media attention as experts, including Thailand’s Navy Seals, battled to free them.
Thailand’s opening game kicks off at the Al Nahyan Stadium at 5.30pm, where the young boys and their coach will be treated to a behind the scenes look at the team’s pre-match preparations.
They will then enjoy VIP access to what could be a decisive clash in the qualification group stage.
“The courage and perseverance of the 12 teenagers and their coach under extremely challenging conditions was a source of inspiration for millions of people across the world,” said Asian Football Confederation President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
“Now we have an opportunity to continue this remarkable fairy-tale.
“Football has the power to bring hope and joy to people of all backgrounds and nationalities.
“The AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 is the ultimate platform on which to celebrate the unity and diversity of our continent.”
The invitation is part of a larger, two-year support programme from the AFC to the Wild Boars, which will see the club receive technical support as well as training equipment and 100 Molten match balls a year.
“I am confident that the presence of the Wild Boars Academy players will make for an even more memorable tournament and will inspire them to continue their incredible footballing journey,” said Mr Al Khalifa.
“During their terrible 18-day ordeal, they demonstrated the power of unity and teamwork and, in the end, they thankfully overcame all the challenges that they faced.”
The UAE is hosting the Asian Cup for a second time, with games beginning on Saturday, January 5, and concluding on February 1 with the final in Zayed Sports City.
A total of 51 matches will be played in eight cities across Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
The UAE has been placed in group A alongside India, Bahrain and Thailand and opens the tournament against Bahrain at Zayed Sports City on Saturday.