World Cup 2014: Elephants show off ball skills in Thailand football match

The game, in Chiang Mai province, was held to mark the start of the World Cup

Brazil appeared to have the upper hand as the “Elephant World Cup” kicked off in Thailand.

Humans could do little against the elephants, each painted to represent a different country, as they showed off their superior ball control.

One seemed to slightly misunderstand the rules by picking up the ball with its trunk but with more than seven footballers in goal to defend against an elephant free kick, the friendly match seemed to pay little heed to normal regulations.

The match, at the Mae Sa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, was held on Monday as part of a campaign to promote the 2014 World Cup and also to discourage gambling during the competition.

The tournament will kick off on Thursday in Brazil.

Some elephant camps in Thailand have been criticised for abusing the animals, which are sometimes smuggled from the wild in Burma and other countries.

In the common practice of “phajaan”, meaning "crushing", elephants are caged and tied up to be trained to perform and take tourists on rides.

Beatings with sticks, chins and metal hooks have been reported, along with starvation and sleep deprivation to break the elephant’s spirit into submission.

Publicity around the practice in recent years has led to reform in places and more humane training methods are being increasingly used.

Supporters of the camps claim tourists can help the animals if they visit ethical camps because profits from tourism help owners care for their animals and can be used for conservation projects.