Thai soccer team opens up about cave rescue on 'Ellen' — and gets a surprise visit from idol

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

As a reminder that the world isn’t full of only dark and dreary news, Monday has not only brought a royal baby announcement, but also the first group interview with the inspirational Wild Boars soccer team from Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The Thai youth soccer team that was rescued from a cave in July appeared on Ellen on Monday. (Photo: Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.)

Three months after the youth soccer team, including coach Ake, was rescued from Tham Luang Nang Non cave, the entire group appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. With the help of a translator, they talked about how it happened, what they did to survive the ordeal, and what their plans are for the future. The talk show host, who loves a good surprise, also gave them one — a visit from their “idol.”

To answer some burning questions about the incident, which saw the 12 players (who ranged in age from 11 to 17), as well as their 25-year-old coach, trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days: The cave was a “tourist attraction.” Some of them hadn’t seen it yet, so they went in planning to stay “for just an hour.” They left all their belongings outside, bringing in a torch and a phone, when they entered the cave on June 23. When they went to leave, they noticed that the “water had risen too high” and they couldn’t leave. 

Asked about their fears while inside, the translator said, “They weren’t scared. They always had hope. They knew that if they didn’t come out, eventually someone would have to come in and  get them out.” The coach, a former monk, urged them to meditate and pray to “stay calm.” Meditating also helped them conserve energy. They drank water trickling down from the top of the cave to stay hydrated. They would sleep, but for an hour at a time. Four of the boys had their birthdays inside the cave, but there was no celebrating.

Members of the Thai youth soccer team meet their idol, L.A. Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimović, on Ellen. (Photo: Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.)

The rescue efforts were extensive and dangerous (one Thai navy SEAL lost his life), with it taking eight hours to get each person out. The team members “don’t remember anything” about the rescues. Not only was it dark, but they were all sedated first. Ake was the last member of the team to be saved, with everyone out on July 10. 

These days, they are all “healthy” and doing “fine.” Their plans for the future are to get good educations, which will lead to good jobs, but they also continue playing soccer to provide for their families.

Ellen is the best at surprises and gave them a big one — a visit from the L.A. Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimović, who called them the “best team in the world.” He invited them to a private practice with his Galaxy teammates, while Ellen gave them all a VIP experience to a Los Angeles Football Club game.

Members of the Thai youth soccer team pose with Ellen on Monday. (Photo: Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.)

While it wasn’t discussed on-air, Ake and three of the young teammates had no nationality — or were stateless — at the time they were trapped in the cave. (They were from tribes extending across Thailand, Laos, China, and Myanmar with no clear borders or citizenship.) In late September, they were granted Thai citizenship.

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