Weiss plots exit from the wilder­ness

EAFF progress is just the start, says Ger­man boss

World Soccer - - World Service - STEVE MENARY

Mak­ing the sec­ond pre­lim­i­nary round of the East Asian Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion E-1 Championship was a big step for Mon­go­lia, but the team’s Ger­man coach Michael Weiss has a more re­al­is­tic tar­get than the fi­nals in South Korea next year.

Mon­go­lia had never pro­gressed past the first stage of any in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment be­fore host­ing this year’s qual­i­fiers and they be­gan by thrash­ing Ma­cau 4-0 and North­ern Mar­i­ana Is­lands 9-0.

With Guam hav­ing lost 2-0 to Ma­cau, a draw with the favourites would have been enough for Mon­go­lia. The game was goal­less un­til De­van Men­di­ola put Guam ahead in the 89th minute, but in the fourth minute of in­jury time mid­fielder Nor­j­moo­gin Tseden­bal grabbed a dra­matic equaliser to send Mon­go­lia through.

“We played some good foot­ball based on a strong de­fence and re­lied on a com­pact mid­field and a press­ing game,” says Weiss. “The co­he­sion was very good be­cause we have been to­gether for one-anda-half years. We played lots of over­seas tour­na­ments and lost heav­ily, and got in­juries from in­ex­pe­ri­ence, but now we can’t be hap­pier.”

The next stage of the tour­na­ment is in Chi­nese Taipei, from Novem­ber 11 to 16, and pits Weiss’ side against the hosts, Hong Kong and two-time World Cup qual­i­fiers North Korea.

“I hope North Korea will bring a young team as maybe they will think they can beat us all,” ad­mits Weiss, who took the Mon­go­lia job in Jan­uary 2017.

Al­though in­di­vid­ual sports such as archery and cy­cling tend to dom­i­nate in Mon­go­lia, foot­ball is grow­ing. From seven clubs in 2013, the league now has two di­vi­sions of 10 clubs, though only Khangarid and Deren of the 10 Premier League sides are from out­side the cap­i­tal Ulaan­baatar. The sea­son is also re­stricted by the harsh win­ter.

“We only play 18 matches, from April to Oc­to­ber,” says Munkhbat Orkon, who is gen­eral-man­ager at Deren. “We need more matches and more rounds.”

But ex­pand­ing the league would lower the qual­ity and not all of the clubs in­volved are keen. Enki Bat­sum­ber, who is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of sec­ond di­vi­sion side Bayan­gol, is one of those against the idea, ex­plain­ing: “In the top di­vi­sion some­times the gap be­tween top and bot­tom club can be sig­nif­i­cant enough that it’s not com­pet­i­tive any­more.

“If you bring new and not-ready clubs to the league it will lower the qual­ity of the league. Those

“We have been to­gether for one-and-ahalf years. We played lots of over­seas tour­na­ments and lost heav­ily, and got in­juries from in­ex­pe­ri­ence, but now we can’t be hap­pier” Michael Weiss

clubs might face bank­ruptcy or dis­band. I see many clubs strug­gling in the sec­ond di­vi­sion fi­nan­cially and hu­man-re­source wise.”

With no charge for ad­mis­sion, clubs rely on spon­sors for in­come and the play­ers are all part-time, earn­ing from $150 to $500 a month in the top flight.

A few years ago for­eign play­ers be­gan ar­riv­ing and clubs are not al­lowed to field more than three over­seas play­ers at a time, while Weiss only uses do­mes­tic play­ers as no Mon­go­lians play abroad.

Mu­run Al­tankhuyag is one of the few lo­cal play­ers to have played his club foot­ball over­seas, hav­ing been in­volved in col­lege soc­cer in the USA be­tween 2009 and 2012, then fea­tur­ing for Thai third-tier side Krabi and Ser­bian club Macva Sabac be­fore re­turn­ing home

to sign for Ulaan­baatar City in 2016. How­ever, the 29-year-old striker is not cur­rently in the na­tional set-up as Weiss prefers to fo­cus on youth.

Of his cur­rent squad of play­ers, Weiss – who also runs the coun­try’s un­der-19 and un­der-23 teams – says: “Many are stu­dents. Some work in banks and train part-time. They are all pure Mon­go­lians, not play­ers who have been nat­u­ralised.

“I tend to use younger play­ers from 18 to 25, but in the EAFF I brought in a cou­ple of older play­ers at cen­tre-back and a deep-ly­ing mid­fielder.”

Deren de­fender Bayas­galangiin Garid­mag­nai, who is 33, and 28-year-old Khoromkhon mid­fielder Khurel­baataryn Tsend-Ayu­ush are likely to fea­ture in Chi­nese Taipei, but with only one qual­i­fy­ing spot up for grabs, join­ing China, Ja­pan and South Korea in the fi­nal round is per­haps un­re­al­is­tic.

But hav­ing now man­aged to progress through a se­nior qual­i­fy­ing round, Weiss be­lieves that mak­ing the sec­ond round of the 2023 Asian Cup qual­i­fiers is pos­si­ble for Mon­go­lia.

“If we get through we get eight matches in the group stage again against a big team like Ja­pan or South Korea and some smaller coun­tries,” says Weiss. “This will be a good ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Suc­cess...Mon­go­lia go through

Late show... cel­e­brat­ing the equaliser against Guam

Fo­cus on youth... Michael Weiss

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