Weiss plots exit from the wilderness
EAFF progress is just the start, says German boss
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