Success in Asian Qualifiers crucial for Mongolia's progress
Ulaanbaatar: In Mongolia, football’s popularity lags behind that of sumo wrestling and archery. But for the game to reach its full potential the country’s technical director Hatem Souissi believes progress to the second round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup is essential.
Mongolia have never advanced beyond the first phase of qualifying for either tournament and take on Brunei Darussalam over two legs on Thursday and Tuesday hoping to notch up a victory that secures the country a place in the draw for Qatar 2022 and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
The winners will join the likes of Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the second phase and the prospect of facing one of the Continent’s giants, believes Souissi, will give the game a much-needed boost in the landlocked East Asian nation.
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“If we can qualify for the next round then we will try to bring top teams so that the crowd can come and see them,” said the Tunisian, who was recently appointed by the Mongolia Football Federation.
“We need to make the sport popular and bring big names. Then it doesn’t matter about the results, we need to promote football by bringing good names and to be able to bring people to play. And we will find that hard if we don’t qualify for the next round.
“We have to qualify because if we don’t qualify, we won’t be able to find friendly games, or strong ones anyway.”
Growing the sport – from enhancing coach education and providing more opportunities for players at all levels – are among the tasks taken on by the 64-year-old in his role as technical director and Souissi is focused on laying the foundations for future success.
Key among those is increasing the number of coaches working within the game and introducing a licensing system for teams playing in the country’s first and second divisions.
“The biggest challenge is to make football really popular so that there is more practicing of the sport because football is not that popular, to be honest,” Souissi told the-AFC.com. “It is number one in the world but it’s not in Mongolia. It maybe comes seventh or eighth in the rankings, so for the time being it’s important to have a broader base.
“And we have started already with those who are going to teach the kids, doing a lot of coach education to upgrade the level and broaden the base and try to expose them to the international game. They lack that kind of exposure. This is a lengthy process and we have started already."
“I don’t see it starting to bear some fruit for two years, and I’m being a little bit optimistic when I say this. Talent-wise there is plenty of talent, contrary to what many people think. I was pleasantly surprised, but it is at a young age. We have to work systematically at a young age.
“We don’t have many coaches. All-in-all we have something like 120 coaches, which is nothing. So now we have done some refreshers and we now have another 40, so we have about 160. It’s a big job, but that’s what tempted me.
“The progress will be quick in the beginning and then it will slow down, but at the minute we’re progressing by leaps and bounds.”
In the meantime, national team head coach Michael Weiss and his side will host the first leg of the two-game play-off on Thursday at the MFF Football Centre in Ulaanbaatar, with the return in Bandar Seri Begawan five days later.
And, with so much potentially on the line for the future of the game in Mongolia, Souissi believes playing the first leg at home will give the Blue Wolves the upper hand.
“There’s a slight advantage for us playing the first game in Mongolia,” he said. “The good thing for us is that we are in competition, because the league has started already. The players have some competition in their legs, which is really important. They have had enough time to work together and I rate our chances as really good.”
Photos: Mongolia Football Federation
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