“The teams going to the World Cup aren’t set in stone, are they?”
The voice on the other end of the line had the air of a dreamer who wasn’t afraid to take a different path.
This is director Park Sun-tae, who is filming his second Barefoot Dreams in East Timor. After 17 years at the helm of Daegu University, his alma mater, he began a new challenge with the Timor-Leste national soccer team in February this year.
“It all started when I took the P-level license training with Coach Kim Shin-hwan, who pioneered football in East Timor,” Park told reporters during a recent training trip to Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province.
Kim is known for coaching the East Timorese national youth soccer team since 2002 and is the real-life protagonist of the 2010 movie “Barefoot Dreams,” about the plight of children in East Timor. As Kim’s players have moved on to the adult world, he and Park have been working together to fulfill their World Cup dreams. “What started out as a way to donate my talent has turned into something I think is worth pursuing,” Park said with enthusiasm.
Timor-Leste’s FIFA ranking is 192nd, the lowest in Southeast Asia. While the number of tickets allocated to Asia for the 2026 World Cup in North and Central America has been increased to 8.5 (from 4.5), it’s not something that Timor-Leste will take lightly. From the first round of World Cup Asia to the final qualifiers, they will have to thread the needle.
Park is well aware of this, but he is confident that he has hit the ground running in his half-year in East Timor.
The Timorese were knocked out of the group stage of the Southeast Asian Games in May for players under 23, but made a splash with a 3-0 win over the Philippines, ranked 135th in the FIFA rankings. It was an eye-catching performance, as Timor-Leste had lost 0-7 to the Philippines in an A-match in December 2021.
“We only won one game,” Park recalls, “but it wasn’t bad for two months of training. It was a moment that confirmed that Timor-Leste soccer had potential.”
One of the things he saw was the passing game. The average height of East Timorese players is small (160 centimeters), so brawling with opponents is a quick way to lose. They need to utilize their relative agility and play soccer in the gaps. “Locally, we get a lot of praise for being ‘different’ and ‘better’,” Park said. Our goal is to get results that are as different as the changes we’ve made,” Park said.
Park and the Timorese players are hoping that the Pyeongchang training camp, which is scheduled to end on October 8, will be a turning point. With financial support from FIFA and the help of former students from Daegu University who are now working in the catering industry in Pyeongchang, the team has been training for about a month. “With the help of Shim Bong-seop, the head of the Pyeongchang County Football Association, a training center was set up, and people who love soccer came together to provide the players with everything from meals to training clothes to protect them from the cooler weather,” Park said.
Park emphasized that the World Cup is about rewarding accidents, not incidents. The team is preparing to face Chinese Taipei (ranked 153rd) in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Oct. 12 and 17, as well as the 2026 North and Central American World Cup Asian qualifiers.소닉카지노
The Timorese do not have a FIFA-compliant home stadium and will play both games away from home in Taiwan, but the desire to reach the next level is not lost on their opponents. If Timor-Leste qualifies for the second round of the World Cup, they will face Oman, Kyrgyzstan, and Malaysia in Group D starting in November.
“If we were to be realistic right now, no one would say we would win the first round against Taiwan,” Park said, “but I still believe in the saying that the soccer ball is round. We want to make it to the second round and have a Korean coaching match with Malaysia’s Kim Pang Gon. Our challenge is just beginning,” Park said.