They said it was “Mission Impossible” so the relief was palpable in Chiang Rai when it was announced that all 12 boys and their coach had been rescued from their underground prison – alive.
Locals waved at ambulances bringing the final children and the 25-year-old coach to hospital.
As the fourth and fifth passed there was a spontaneous round of applause.
“Keep fighting,” Kulkanok Changkham and her friends shouted.
They had set up a food stall, offering the foreign correspondents that have descended on this city water and bananas.
I asked them why. They said they were so grateful to the international community who had come to the aid of the young football team.
Their response shows how personal this rescue has been for this country.
They anxiously watched the plight of these boys as if they were their own sons, rather than the children of strangers.
The initial joy at them being found last week soon turned to fear that they could not be brought out alive.
After all, many of the children could not swim and their route to freedom involved a perilous dive which many professionals could not master.
The fact that they have all made it out alive is testament to the skill and determination of their rescuers and the boys’ own extraordinary resilience.
Of course this tale is not over, the condition of the final four children and their coach is not yet clear.
All of those freed before them are being kept in quarantine for the moment as doctors check for infections.
The psychological impact of their imprisonment may take longer to assess.
But after more than two weeks underground, 12 young footballers are free and tonight Thailand is celebrating the return of its children.