There is no better place than East Asia to provide a short lesson about the combination of karma and football. We saw some of it at the first round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers when two teams had a chance to exact revenge.
Four years ago, Timor-Leste surprised everyone at the beginning of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. They played against Mongolia and made unexceptional results with two wins, 4-1 and 1-0. Timor-Leste, who never managed to win a World Cup qualifier match before, suddenly found themselves playing against some of the Asian giants like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Their journey turned into a nightmare after one match in October 2015. They hosted Palestine and almost made another upset. Timor-Leste led until the 92nd minute, but a late goal by Ahmad Abu Nahye equalized the score. The Palestinian decided to appeal against the result, as according to them, Timor-Leste fielded ineligible players.
AFC and FIFA investigated these claims quickly, and they found that it was true. Seven naturalized players, all were born in Brazil, played for Timor-Leste in that match. The immediate result was a decision not to field any of these Brazilian for the team’s next game against the UAE, which eventually ended with a harsh defeat, 8-0.
According to FIFA rules, none of these players were eligible to play, and therefore FIFA decided that any match that these players were fielded will be awarded to the rivals. Retrospectively, also both of Mongolia’s matches from the first round were awarded, but it was too late to re-enter Mongolia to the World Cup qualifiers. By the way, AFC took a severe decision against Timor-Leste, as they banned the team from playing at the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, as well as a ban from the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers.
What happened in 2019, four years later?
At the first round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Timor-Leste was drawn to play against Malaysia. Both of the teams played in the same group in the 2018 qualifiers, including one draw that was awarded later to Malaysia. This time, without their Brazilian players, Timor-Leste was knocked out after they lost 7-1 and 5-1.
Mongolia got their chance to make a comeback. They played against Brunei Darussalam and won 2-0 in front of their home crowd. In the return leg, they were already 2-0 down at the half time, but one away goal in the second half was enough to secure Mongolia’s berth to the next stage.
Thumbnail photo by Jordao Henrique