Asean University Games 2016

Asean University Games: Timorese go from also-rans to silver medallists

Despite failing to beat Thailand in yesterday's AUG football final, Timor Leste can consider their run in Singapore a success.
Despite failing to beat Thailand in yesterday's AUG football final, Timor Leste can consider their run in Singapore a success.ST PHOTO: NICOLA CHEW

Football fairy tales do not just exist in Europe.

Last week, Timor Leste crafted one of their own here by reaching the final against defending champions Thailand at the Asean University Games.

Prior to this tournament, the minnows, whose entire Games contingent numbers less than a 10th of the Thai juggernaut - 31 compared to 382 - had never won a football match since first joining the AUG in 2008.

While, they were unable to follow in the footsteps of surprise Euro 2016 winners Portugal or shock English Premier League champions Leicester City, falling to Thailand 0-3 in yesterday's final, the loss was in no way viewed as a failure.

After all, their target was to make the semi-finals, which they did after beating Myanmar 5-1, defeating Laos 5-2 and losing 1-3 to the Thais in the group stage.

In just getting there, they had already surpassed what their predecessors had achieved.

"I am so happy and proud of all the players for their hard work and determination," said coach Manuel da Costa Soares, 51.

"Team work, pressuring the opponents and the players' full concentration during each match were definitely the key behind our success at the AUG so far."

The team also attributed their strong performance to their experience in the Liga Futebol Amadora Timor Leste, an amateur football league in which almost all the players represented their respective universities.

Despite having only two weeks to train as Timor Leste's AUG team, their foundations made for flexibility and adaptability in the new team environment.

Team captain Jose Carlos da Fonseca, 21, professed his delight at how far the team had come - securing a medal is a victory in itself, let alone playing for gold.

"It feels like winning already," he said.

Hosts Singapore clinched the bronze medal. They beat Malaysia 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 stalemate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Timorese go from also-rans to silver medallists'. Print Edition | Subscribe