Timor-Leste

East Timor / Timór Lorosa’e / Timor-Leste

  • Capital: Dili
  • Population: 1,340,520 (2021 estimate)
  • Official Languages: Portuguese, Tetum
  • National Languages: 15 languages
  • Working Languages: English, Indonesian
  • Men’s Team Nicknames: Lafaek (The Crocodiles)
  • Women’s Team Nicknames: n/a
  • Association: Federação de Futebol de Timor-Leste (FFTL)
  • Top Male Domestic League: Liga Futebol Timor-Leste Primeira Divisão
  • Top Female Domestic League: Unknown
  • FIFA Code: TLS

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best AFC Challenge Cup (Men): Did Not Enter/Withdrew
  • Best AFC Solidarity Cup (Men): Group Stage (2016)
  • Best AFF Championship (Men): Group Stage (2004, 2018, 2020)
  • Best AFF Championship (Women): Group Stage (2016, 2018, 2019)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 146th (June 2015)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): n/a
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 206th (October 2012)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): n/a
  • Most Capped Player: Anggisu Barbosa – 30 caps [as of January 2022]
  • Top Scorer: Rufino Gama – 7 goals [as of January 2022]

Introduction & Brief History

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (República Democrática de Timor-Leste / Repúblika Demokrátika Timór-Leste) or East Timor is an island country situated in the furthest outskirts of Southeast Asia. As its English name suggests, the country occupies the eastern half of the equatorial island of Timor, along with a number of other islands, and the exclave of Oecusse which is situated on the northwestern side of the island and surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. As well as sharing a land border with Indonesia, Timor-Leste is situated northwest of the Australian city of Darwin with the Timor Sea separating the country from Australia.

It was originally a part of the Portuguese Empire having been colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century and was originally known as Portuguese Timor (to differentiate it from Dutch Timor which was then a part of the Dutch East Indies and would eventually become part of Indonesia). Following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, the former colony declared its independence in late November 1975 but was soon invaded by its neighbour nine days after its declaration of independence and forcibly incorporated into Indonesia. This period of occupation was a bloody and violent one as separatist forces fought a long and brutal campaign against the Indonesian military, with the 1991 Dili Massacre being the absolute nadir of the troubles. However, with the aid from United Nations peacekeepers during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the country finally regained its independence in May 2002 becoming the first new sovereign nation of the 21st century.

Football was naturally brought to the island by the Portuguese colonists with many of the clubs founded in East Timor named after or inspired by the big and famous teams from the Portuguese mainland e.g. Benfica, Boavista, etc. The Federação de Futebol de Timor-Leste (FFTL) was founded in 2002 and initially became an associate member of the AFC in the same year. This allowed them to attempt to qualify for the 2004 Asian Cup, and so their first international match occurred during the preliminary group round for the tournament when they faced Sri Lanka in Colombo in March 2003 but lost 2-3. They would play their second game just two days later, again on the losing side when they lost 0-3 to Taiwan to finish bottom of the group.

In 2004 they became a member of the AFF, and it would be a further year before they became full members of both the AFC and FIFA. Sadly despite making their international debut in March 2003, it wouldn’t be until October 2012 when the country finally achieved its first victory in international football. They surprisingly managed to achieve a 2-2 draw with Cambodia whilst attempting to qualify for the 2008 AFF Championship, but they finally acquired a win four years later attempting to qualify for that year’s AFF Championship when they again achieved some success against the Angkor Warriors by beating them 5-1. During the same qualification phase, a second victory was accomplished four days after their first win when they overcame Laos 3-1 in the same qualification campaign.

Throughout its short international history, Timor-Leste has consistently been one of the lower-ranked teams within the AFC and, naturally, they have yet to qualify for either a World Cup or AFC Asian Cup tournament and have won only seven games since their debut (at the time of writing). However, the Crocodiles have played in three AFF Championships, the regional tournament for countries within Southeast Asia. Their first tournament came in 2004 when they replaced Brunei, who had withdrawn previously, but Timor-Leste was unable to pick up any points. It was a long wait before they reached another AFF Championship when they qualified for the 2018 AFF Championship, and followed it up with a second consecutive qualification two years later. Alas, on both occasions, they lost all their games during both group stages meaning they have yet to achieve a point in their three appearances in the AFF Championship.

Unfortunately, in most recent times, the country’s quest to help improve its international standing and ranking fell foul of AFC rules. Since 2012, the country had been naturalising foreign-born players, most particularly from its fellow Lusophone country of Brazil, to help strengthen its national team and squad. By October 2015, seven of the starting XI against Palestine were Brazilian-born naturalised players, and this provoked complaints from within the country and from fellow AFC members who were concerned about the rapid increase of naturalised players. A formal investigation commenced and it was discovered that the FFTL had indeed broken rules by giving players East Timorese passports to Brazilian players so they could play for Timor-Leste. In December 2016, the FFTL was charged with using forged and falsified documents, fielding as many as twelve ineligible players during the qualification phase of the 2019 Asian Cup, and bringing the game into disrepute. Resultantly, they were barred from participating in the qualification tournament for the 2023 Asian Cup and given a severe reprimand by the AFC. It also saw the banning of the FFTL General Secretary Amandio Sarmento by FIFA for their involvement in the scandal.

Despite having been thrown out of qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup, Timor-Leste was still eligible to qualify for the 2022 World Cup as they had been barred from an AFC competition and not a FIFA one. Alas, their campaign did not progress too far as in the first round of qualifying, they were drawn against the top-seeded side of Malaysia. They suffered a 1-7 defeat in the first leg in Kuala Lumpur which practically confirmed their elimination before Malaysia inflicted a 1-5 hammering in the second leg to put the final nail in the coffin for Timor-Leste’s 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.

Timor-Leste National Team

Q. Who is Timor-Leste’s best player of all-time?

The person who could be considered as Timor-Leste’s best very player is the prolific striker Emilio Ribeiro Neves da Silva, known simply as Emílio da Silva or “Ary“. The Dili-born attacker started his career with FC Zebra, a club based in the country’s second city of Baucau, going through their youth teams before making his debut for the side in 2002. At the Zebras he managed two years at the club, scoring an apparent 20 goals in 32 appearances, before making a move to AD Esperança in 2004, with whom he spent six years at the club during the Super Liga Timorense era. It has been reported that throughout this period of time that da Silva managed to score an impressive 121 goals in 193 appearances for the club.

After six years at Esperança, he moved to AD Dili Oeste and spent four years with the Dili Rhinoceros. It was during this period of his career that da Silva became the highest-paid athlete from Timor-Leste by making US$20,000 in 2011, thus confirming his status as the best player in the country. In 2015, the striker then moved to Carsae FC, which would later become Boavista Timor Leste, where he would subsequently finish his career at.

Emílio da Silva’s international record tends to vary depending on various sources. Having done some research, it seems that the officially acknowledged record is 3 goals in 18 appearances for the Lafaek, however, it has also been quoted by other sources that his international record is 10 goals in 25 appearances. Regardless, there is no doubt that one of his best moments for the national team came in October 2007 during the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup. In the first round of Asian qualification, Timor-Leste was drawn against Hong Kong, and da Silva scored a brace against Hong Kong in the first leg held in Indonesia (where Timor-Leste had chosen to play their home game at), scoring in the 41st and 69th minutes, although it wasn’t enough to stop a 2-3 defeat. Alas, Timor-Leste’s progression was drastically halted in the second leg when they suffered a 1-8 demolition at Hong Kong but once again it was da Silva who scored Timor-Leste’s only goal of the game by scoring a consolation in the 53rd minute.

At 39 years old, perhaps Emílio da Silva appeared on the East Timorese football scene ten years too early and would have unquestionably scored more goals and earned caps for the national team had he been available to play in the national team today. Certainly, he can be considered as one of the first huge East Timorese sporting superstars in the early days of the country’s independence.

Q. Who is currently the best player in the national team?

João Pedro

In my opinion, the best player in the current national team is João Pedro (or João Pedro da Silva Freitas to give him his full name) who is a 21-year-old winger currently playing for Malaysian side Kuala Kangsar. Firstly, he is one of very few East Timorese players to have played abroad and is the only one in the current national team who applies their trade outside of the island of Timor. The Baucau-born player started his career at SLB Laulara in 2017 before moving to Thailand and playing for Ubon United between 2019 and 2020 where he made nineteen appearances and scored two goals. He would subsequently move to his current club in 2021, but also experienced a brief loan move to Malaysian Super League side UiTM FC where he made two appearances in 2021.

In terms of his international career, João Pedro has made ten appearances for the senior national team and scored two goals. He made his debut in the first leg against Brunei in the 2018 AFF Championship qualifiers, and scored his first goal for Timor-Leste during the same AFF Championship group stage by scoring Timor-Leste’s second goal in a 2-3 defeat to the Philippines. In the most recent AFF Championship he played in the first two group games but has not played for the national team since the 2-0 loss to Myanmar in early December 2021.

Rufino Gama

Another player who could be considered as the best player in the national team is the 23-year-old striker Rufino Gama. The Baucau-born player started his career at AS Académica, where he spent two years, before moving to Cecusan in 2017. Gama then moved to Karketu Dili and spent two seasons at the capital club making 28 appearances and scoring 15 goals for them. He has since moved from Karketu to Lalenok United in 2020 to help them initially progress in the AFC Cup as well adding further firepower to one of the country’s best clubs. During his time at the Lobsters, he has helped the team win both the Copa FFTL and Taça 12 de Novembro in 2020, and finish as Primeira Divisão runners-up in 2021.

Gama has played for Timor-Leste’s under 16s, the 20s, and the 23s, before playing for the senior international team, making his debut for the national team in June 2016 in a 2019 Asian Cup first-round qualifier against Malaysia. This game would be ultimately be declared as a 0-3 forfeit by the AFC due to Timor-Leste falsifying documents for some of their naturalised players. He scored his first senior international goal in October 2016 when he scored Timor-Leste’s only goal in a 1-2 defeat to Taiwan in the second round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers. Since his international debut, Gama has earned twenty-one caps for Timor-Leste and scored seven goals, which currently makes him the country’s all-time top goalscorer, with his last goal coming in June 2019 in the 2022 World Cup qualifying 1-5 defeat to Malaysia.

Q. Who could be considered as the most exciting up & coming talent from the nation?

Mouzinho

Whilst the vast majority of players who were called up to the East Timorese national team in their most recent friendly games against Indonesia were 21 years old or under, there are a couple of players who perhaps have had more attention placed upon them than the others in recent times. One of those players is Mouzinho Barreto de Lima, more commonly known as Mouzinho, and he is a 19-year-old winger/forward currently playing for SLB Laulara. He first attracted attention during the 2019 AFF U18 Youth Championship when he finished as one of the joint top-goalscorers with six goals, with four of them coming against Philippines in a 5-2 victory over them. He has subsequently played for Timor-Leste’s under 23 sides and been promoted to the full senior national team, making his international debut in June 2019 in a 2022 World Cup qualifier against Malaysia, which Timor-Leste lost 1-7. He was involved in all four games of Timor-Leste’s 2020/21 AFF Championship campaign and has made seven appearances for the senior team although he hasn’t scored yet. However, it should only be a matter of time before he breaks his international duck as he currently has a great scoring record in the domestic leagues. This was evident in the 2020 Copa FFTL competition when the young forward finished as the top scorer with 14 goals in 7 matches for SLB Laulara on their way to the competition’s grand final.

Paulo Gali

Another player who has attracted attention is the speedy left-winger/forward Paulo Domingos Gali da Costa Freitas or Paulo Gali for short. The winger, who is partial to many an attempted dribble, currently plays for Lalenok United and has played for them since 2019 after moving from rivals SLB Laulara. It is claimed his age is 17-years-old, however, there is some major confusion about whether this is his actual age or not. It comes from the fact that Gali made his senior international debut in 2018 in an AFF Championship qualifier against Brunei, which Timor-Leste won 3-1. In that match, he was listed as being 22-years-old, but if his actual birthdate is December 2004, he would have been making his international debut at just THIRTEEN years old. The confusion continues the following year when despite being quoted as being 22-years-old in his international debut, he then represented Timor-Leste in the 2019 AFF U15 Championships, which naturally resulted in accusations from other countries that he was overage for the tournament. All in all, it’s incredibly confusing! If he is indeed 17-years-old, then there’s no doubt he is a talented youngster for the Timor-Leste national team and has made nine appearances for the senior team since his debut in 2018. Gali just recently scored his first senior international goal, scoring in the 4-1 defeat to Indonesia in late January 2022.

Q. What is the current state/performance of the national team?

Below are Timor-Leste’s results from 2021 and 2022:

  • 1st Dec 2021 [AFF Champ Q]: Brunei (n) Cancelled
  • 5th Dec 2021 [AFF Champ]: Thailand (n) 0-2
  • 8th Dec 2021 [AFF Champ]: Myanmar (n) 0-2
  • 11th Dec 2021 [AFF Champ]: Philippines (n) 0-7
  • 14th Dec 2021 [AFF Champ]: Singapore (n) 0-2
  • 27th Jan 2022 [Friendly]: Indonesia (a) 1-4
  • 30th Jan 2022 [Friendly]: Indonesia (a) 0-3

I think it’s fair to say that the current situation with Timor-Leste is not good. Obviously, the whole scandal with the ‘nationalised’ players has created huge problems both internally and externally with the morale of local players being damaged as spaces in the national team were getting occupied by the newcomers. Also because of the report which exposed the scandal, they are currently barred from qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup due to playing twelve ineligible players during the 2019 Asian Cup qualification campaign.

However, on the pitch, results have not been great either. Despite having qualified for their second consecutive AFF Championship because Brunei failed to play the qualifier as a result of the ongoing pandemic and subsequently withdrew, they failed to win any of their group games and even failed to score a single goal during the tournament which meant that 2021 was a bad one for its attacking players. 2022 seems to have continued in the same form as the previous year with Timor-Leste enduring a further two defeats against neighbouring rivals Indonesia. The new year had started off positively with Paulo Gali opening the goalscoring in their first match against Indonesia with a skilled chipped effort, and getting their first international goal since June 2019, however, a missed penalty in first-half injury time and four unanswered goals conceded in the second half ensured East Timor were unable to break their losing streak which now extends to twelve games (if you include the second Indonesian friendly defeat). The last time they managed a victory was a 3-1 win over Brunei in September 2018 for that year’s AFF Championship.

At the time of writing, they are currently 196th in the FIFA World Rankings and the fourth-lowest ranked team in the AFC. However, there is some cause for optimism with the East Timorese national team. Because a lot of their previous players were declared illegible to play for the national team, it has meant they have been forced to promote a large number of their talented young players into the side. From the squad that was called up in the duo of friendly matches against Indonesia in January 2022, nearly the majority of them were either 21 or younger (if their ages are factual…), meaning this should surely benefit the national team in the long term as the young players gain international experience and hopefully improve as players.

Q. Looking at Timor-Leste’s short international history, what has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team?

After having waited for over nine and a half years for their first international victory, their 5-1 win over Cambodia is surely the best result in Timor-Leste’s history. It came during the qualifying phase for the 2012 AFF Championship when they were placed in a five-team group alongside Laos, Brunei, and hosts Myanmar, with the top two performing teams qualifying for the championship. The Cambodia match was the first of the four-game campaign for Timor-Leste and it was the East Timorese who opened the scoring when striker Murilo de Almeida scored a five-minute brace just before half-time. Their advantage was further extended in the second half when full-back Ady (Adelino Trindade) scored in the 57th minute and added his second and Timor-Leste’s fourth in the 73rd minute. Striker Alan Leandro added a fifth goal in the 87th minute to send the East Timorese supporters into a dream world before Cambodia scored a consolation penalty themselves in injury time to ensure the game finished 5-1.

The opening victory gave Timor-Leste a superb start to their qualification campaign but they were unable to follow it up with a second win two days later, losing 2-1 to the hosts, with Alan Leandro scoring Timor-Leste’s only goal in the match. However, the Crocodiles wouldn’t need to wait long for their second international victory as it appeared in their third group game, this time against Laos. Murilo de Almeida opened the scoring once again when he scored a penalty before half-time before Ady scored a second six minutes after the restart through a header. Although Laos halved their arrears in the 77th minute, Alan Leandro scored in his third consecutive game in the 83rd minute of the game to ensure Timor-Leste won the match 3-1 and gave them a great chance of qualifying for the AFF Championship.

Sadly, needing a third win in four matches to confirm qualification for the 2012 AFF Championship, Timor-Leste fell at the final hurdle in their match against the already-eliminated Brunei. Brunei took the lead in the 16th minute and doubled their lead in the 76th to give the East Timorese a mountain to climb. Despite their best efforts and attacking midfielder Jesse Pinto giving them a glimmer of hope with a 79th-minute strike, Timor-Leste fell to a 2-1 defeat to the Hornets and missed out on qualification by a single point to Laos.

Despite having failed to qualify for the AFF Championship, there was still immense pride from the East Timorese squad following their two wins from their schedule. After winning the second match against Laos, the then-coach of Timor-Leste, the Brazilian Emerson Alcântara stated the following:

“This is a win for the people of Timor Leste. They had to wait a long time for our team to win their first match in this competition but now we have two wins and this was an important victory for Timor Leste. I think that about 70 per cent of people in Timor Leste are poor so it is very important to get this result for them because they love football and the people can get confidence and take pride in this result. It is very important for us to motivate our people and to help to change their lives.”

Q. What is your favourite shirt from the East Timorese national team?

After looking at the shirts that the Timor-Leste national team has worn over the years, there are two shirts that stand out for me. The first one was worn during the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign and is made by Mitre. As mentioned in previous blogs, I like football shirt designs that are based on the country’s flag, and this shirt is no exception with the bloodred shirt having a black triangle covering the right shoulder and a yellow stripe beneath it, in a design akin to the nation’s flag. A very nice and simple design which I really like! Further pictures of the shirt can be found on the ‘My National Team Collection‘ blog:

http://mynationalteamcollection.blogspot.com/2016/02/timor-leste-2.html

The next East Timorese shirt that I really like is the Narrow-made shirt that they wore from 2018 onwards. Again it has a bloodred base for the shirt, with black sleeves and yellow trim. It has an arrow design on the shirt which references the black chevron on the Timor-Leste flag – again references to the national flag are always a positive in my opinion! To see more pictures of the shirt, it can be found on The Global Obsession‘s website below:

http://www.theglobalobsession.com/2017/09/timor-leste.html

East Timorese Domestic Football

Q. What is the East Timorese football pyramid like?

At the time of writing, the East Timorese football pyramid, the Liga Futebol Timor-Leste (LFTL), has three levels:

  • Tier 1 – Primeira Divisão
  • Tier 2 – Segunda Divisão
  • Tier 3 – Terceira Divisão

The top flight of the East Timorese football system is the LFTL Primeira Divisão which was created in 2015 as the Liga Futebol Amadora Primeira Divisão before it changed to its current name in 2020. Timor-Leste originally had the Super Liga Timorense as its original top-flight league between 2004 and 2010 before numerous problems forced the league to fold. The league was initially designed to allow local footballers to flourish, give a home to amateur football in Timor Leste, and ignite the potential to create a gateway to professional football.

Currently, there are eight teams who compete in the top flight, and they play each other twice throughout the league campaign, which normally runs from March/April to September, to create a fourteen-game league schedule for each team. The winner of the league subsequently automatically qualifies for the following season’s AFC Cup qualifying playoff round providing the club has an AFC license that enables them to compete in the continental club competition. The bottom two teams at the end of the season are automatically relegated to the Segunda Divisão, with the top two teams in the second tier replacing them in the top league.

The Segunda Divisão usually has between 12-14 teams within in league, with its structure varying throughout the seasons. In certain seasons, it adopts the usual one-league system with all the teams playing each other team twice to determine league positions. However recently, the league has used a structure of two groups of six teams, with each team just playing each team in their group twice, and the two subsequent group winners gaining promotion to the top flight. The group winners would also compete in a playoff to determine who finishes the season as the Segunda Divisão champions. Finally, the two worst placed teams in either the single league structure or the two-group structure are relegated to the Terceira Divisão.

The national knockout competition is the Taça 12 de Novembro, which was first organised in 2013, and is open to all clubs in the league. The cup is named in memory of the 250+ East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators who were killed in the Santa Cruz massacre on the 12th November 1991, and the anniversary is a public holiday each year in Timor-Leste.

Q. Which East Timorese teams are historically the most successful?

Below is the list of champions since the first Primeira Divisão season in 2016:

  • 2016: Sport Laulara e Benfica
  • 2017: Karketu Dili
  • 2018: Boavista Timor Leste
  • 2019: Lalenok United
  • 2020: Not held due to COVID-19
  • 2021: Karketu Dili

There have only been four full seasons of the Primeira Divisão since its first season in 2016 (the 2021 season was a half-season) with four teams having won the league just once between 2016 and 2019. The inaugural winners were Associação Desportiva e Sport Laulara e Benfica or SLB Laulara, based in Aileu municipality in the centre of the country, and taking their name and colours after the more famous Portuguese equivalent (as teams often do in former Portuguese colonies). They became the first champions by the tightest of margins by winning the title on goals scored after finishing on twenty-one points alongside Karketu Dili and Porto Taibesse. They had the same goal difference as the former (+4) but scored four more goals than Karketu to clinch the championship. Karketu Dili would gain revenge the following year when they lifted the trophy in the second season of the competition, this time winning the title by a margin of three points from their nearest rival Ponta Leste.

The 2018 East Timorese league championship was won by another club named after a Portuguese equivalent with the black and white chequered shirts of Boavista (originally called Carsae) lifting the trophy. In comparison with the previous two seasons, they won the league by a monumental margin of seven points from the defending champions and runners-up Karketu Dili. However, the following year, Boavista was unable to become the first team to win a second league title when they finished as runners-up to an upwardly mobile football club in the form of Lalenok United.

The Lobsters, based in the capital of Dili, made a rapid rise through the pyramid. In 2017, they managed to win in the promotion playoffs to gain promotion to the second-tier, before achieving a second ascension in consecutive seasons when they finished as runners-up in the Segunda Divisão. However, their monumental climb up the league ladder reached its zenith in 2019 when Lalenok United clinched the Primeira Divisão title by a winning margin of five points from Boavista to become champions of Timor-Leste. From the third tier to league champions in three years = incredible!

Alas, Lalenok United were unable to defend their title in the 2020 Primeira Divisão due to the league being cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, another temporary competition was held during 2020, which will be further discussed in the next question. Nonetheless, the league did return back in 2021 but it was a half-season in comparison with previous years due to the ongoing pandemic, with the teams in the Primeira Divisão playing each other team just once. In the end, it was Karketu Dili who clinched the title by three points ahead of the defending champions Lalenok United to become the first team in Timor-Leste to win two Primeira Divisão championships in the league’s history.

Below is the list of the winners of the Taça 12 de Novembro since its first final in 2013:

  • 2 cups: Atlético Ultramar, Lalenok United
  • 1 cup: Dili Leste, Aitana FC, AS Ponta Leste

Of the seven Taça finals that we are aware of (information on 2014 is not known), there have been two teams that have won the cup more than once. The first club was Atlético Ultramar, with the Manatuto-based club first winning the Taça in 2017 by beating Carsae/Boavista in an exciting goal-fest final scoreline of 7-4, and then successfully defended their trophy the following year by beating Assalam FC by the relatively ‘conservative’ scoreline of 3-2. The second team to achieve two Taças was Lalenok United, who completed a league and cup double in 2019 when they beat SLB Laulara 3-2 in their first cup final. They repeated the feat of Atlético Ultramar when the Lobsters also successfully defended the Taça the following year. In a repeat of the 2019 final, Lalenok overcame SLB Laulara once again in the 2020 final but this time through a penalty shootout. After the score had finished at 1-1, it was the defending cup holders who held their nerves from the spot-kicks to retain their trophy by winning 4-1 on penalties and achieving a second successful league-cup domestic double.

Lalenok United did make history in 2020 when they became the first Primeira Divisão side to compete in an AFC continental club competition. Although Timor-Leste could have sent their champions to previous AFC Cup tournaments, previous champions had failed to take part as they were unable to pass the continental competition’s registration process, therefore Lalenok became the first to obtain a registration and be allowed to compete. In the Playoff Round of the 2020 AFC Cup, the Lobsters were drawn against Indonesian Liga 1 side PSM Makassar, one of the oldest clubs in Indonesian football. In the first leg, which was played in Indonesia rather than Timor-Leste, they scored in the second minute to start superbly against their opposition. However, a red card to their goalkeeper meant the Indonesians could fully utilise their man advantage to fight back and win the first leg 4-1. The second leg was not kind to Lalenok as they conceded a further two goals in the first half-hour of the match and would ultimately lose 3-1 despite PSM receiving two dismissals during the tie. Sadly, Lalenok was unable to progress to the group stage of the AFC Cup by losing 7-2 on aggregate.

Lalenok United returned to the AFC Cup the following year having won the 2020 Copa FFTL (more on that later) and were initially scheduled to face Cambodian side Visakha in the 2nd Preliminary Round of the competition. However, as a result of a number of circumstances (such as the Myanmar coup d’état), both sides were promoted to the group stage of the AFC Cup, meaning Lalenok became the first Primeira Divisão to reach the groups in an AFC continental competition. Alas, the pandemic would further hinder any hopes of competing at the group stage. Despite being drawn in a group with their Cambodian opponents, Malaysian side Terengganu, and Singaporean side Geylang International, the group (as well as the other ASEAN-regionalised groups) was cancelled because of the ongoing pandemic. A huge shame for Lalenok and East Timorese domestic football in general!

Q. Who are currently the best teams in the country?

It’s not straightforward to determine who are the best teams in the country currently because football in Timor-Leste has been hindered and sporadic due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past couple of years. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the East Timorese football system was temporarily amended for 2020 and further changed in 2021. Normally the season starts in March/April but the 2020 season start had to be delayed until late August meaning the league calendar had to be reduced for clubs also, as well as safely dealing with everything concerning the spread of COVID and keeping the potential of spread to a bare minimum. Therefore, a compromise competition was created – the Copa FFTL.

For the Copa FFTL, all twenty teams in the top two divisions were combined together and separated into four groups of five teams, with each team playing just four group games, and all the games played at the Estadiun Dili to minimize any risk of COVID spread. The top two teams of the four groups then progressed to a one-legged knockout stage, with the quarter-finals played at the Estadiun Café Ermera, and the semi-finals, third-place playoff, and final match played back at the Estadiun Dili. The prize on offer for the winner was potential qualification for the 2021 AFC Cup as Timor-Leste’s representatives.

The eventual final four teams remaining in the Copa FFTL were the defending champions Lalenok United, Boavista, SLB Laulara, and Assalam. In the first semi-final match, Lalenok managed to overcome Boavista 3-2, whilst in the second semi-final match, SLB Laulara defeated Assalam 2-0 to reach the final. In the third-place playoff, there wasn’t much of a contest as Boavista comfortably claimed the third position with a comprehensive 8-1 win over Assalam, whilst in the final, it was a much closer contest. SLB Laulara took the lead after just eight minutes before the defending champions equalised twenty minutes later to level the score at 1-1. The deadlock was maintained for the majority of the match until the 83rd minute when Lalenok managed to convert a penalty and confirm the Copa FFTL title, and qualification for the 2021 AFC Cup, with a 2-1 victory over their biggest rivals.

The Primeira Divisão returned back in 2021 but it would be a half-season in comparison with previous years due to the ongoing pandemic, with the teams in all of the divisions throughout the pyramid playing each other team in their division/group just once instead of twice. The Primeira Divisão season would further be reduced to a six-game season due to Boavista withdrawing from the top-flight, leaving just seven teams in the top-flight. Ultimately, the favourites Lalenok United were unable to win their second league title (and third in a row if you count the Copa FFTL as a championship) with the 1-0 loss in Round 3 to Ponta Leste being one of their critical undoings in the quest for the title. In the end, it was the previous year’s Copa FFTL quarter-finalists Karketu Dili who clinched the league title to become the first side to win a second East Timorese championship since it started in 2015. Karketu was the only side who managed to stay undefeated throughout their six-game schedule to win the league title by a winning margin of three points from Lalenok. The 88th-minute equaliser from Karketu in the match between the two league rivals in Round 5 would inevitably prove to be the deciding factor in the direction of the league title.

The 2021 FFTL Primeira Divisão table
[IMAGE: www.rsssf.com]

So, to answer the above question, it would be agreed that the best teams in Timor-Leste are currently the current champions Karketu Dili and previous champions Lalenok United.

The links for the Federação de Futebol de Timor-Leste official social media channels can be found below:

  • Website: n/a
  • Facebook: n/a

In addition, there are a number of other Asian football websites or social media accounts that report on East Timorese football. They can be found below:

So that completes the look at the East Timorese national team and its domestic league. If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com, or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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