Though Timor-Leste has only been a member of FIFA since 2005, the tiny south-east Asian island state has already recorded its first successes. The country has only been independent since 2002, but the team has already taken part in its first FIFA World Cup™ qualifying matches, and even though they fell at the first hurdle in their bid to make it to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, losing to Hong Kong in the opening round, their narrow 3-2 defeat in the home leg certainly made people sit up and take notice.
Their FA President Francisco Kalbuadi was a guest at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Thursday 20 November 2008 and spoke to Jerome Champagne, FIFA Director of International Relations, and David Borja, FIFA Development Manager for Asia and Oceania. Afterwards, he also took the time for an interview with FIFA.com.
Mr Kalbuadi, what brings you here today?
I am both proud and happy to be here today as a guest at the Home of FIFA in Zurich. We discussed our statutes which we have been working on since I came to office. We need to finalise them, adapt them to the FIFA statutes and then have them approved by FIFA.
What kind of reputation does football have in Timor-Leste?
For hundreds of years now, football has been the most popular sport in our country, which can partly be attributed to the influence of the Portuguese colonisers. Since our independence in 2002, we have continuously been pushing forward our development. We are incredibly happy to have become a recognised member of the global family of football in the meantime and to receive such excellent support from FIFA, whose Financial Assistance Programme has enabled us to set up training facilities and also to make real improvements in other important areas such as personnel. These resources have enabled us to regularly take part in official competitions in various age groups over recent years.
Last year, the national team took part in the qualifying stages of the FIFA World Cup. What does that mean to you?
We are over the moon that we have been able to pick up experience at this level, even if it was pretty clear that we have a lot of progress to make in various sectors. FIFA's FUTURO course programme has been absolutely invaluable to us, as it gives our employees training and encouragement in management as well as coaching and refereeing. These courses are of enormous importance for our FA. Basically, with the help of the FIFA Goal Project, we are looking to construct a new headquarters as well as extending and improving our training facilities.
How satisfied are you with the development of youth football?
Our people love football. Everyone's playing it, kids of all ages are out on the training grounds around the clock. We also recently took part in a women's football seminar, which definitively persuaded us to create a women's national football team. On 29 November, which is our national day, they are going to play their first ever match against an Australian team in our capital city of Dili.
Is qualifying for the final phase of a FIFA World Cup a dream of yours?
Everyone dreams of one day taking part in a World Cup. But simply being accepted into the FIFA family and taking part in the World Cup qualifiers is a dream come true for us. We are a very small country and yet we are privileged enough to be allowed to play at this level - that truly is a wonderful thing.
In the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, Timor-Leste had climbed up to 198. Does this provide your country with an extra source of motivation?
It's nice to be able to look at the table and see that we are no longer in last place (laughs). We need to keep on working hard day in and day out to make sure that we improve. The work is worth it though, as football is quite simply the world's most beautiful game.