One of football’s most formidable adversaries is of course the climate, and there can be few better examples than Mongolia. Landlocked between China and Russia in central-east Asia, its winters can last up to six months and generate temperatures as low as -45 C°. In fact, no other country has a lower annual mean temperature.
However, these climatic challenges have not discouraged the Football Federation of Mongolia (FFM), which has been working diligently since its re-establishment in 1997 to develop the game in its country. The project has at its core a long-term strategic plan, in which futsal has a key role for the simple reason that it can be played all year round.
Futsal in Mongolia was given a significant boost 2011, when, with the assistance of FIFA’s Goal Projects 3 and 4, the country’s first futsal arena was inaugurated. Since then, and with the continued backing of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the FFM has held six futsal courses in Mongolia, laying the foundations for both the organisation of tournaments and the national team infrastructure.
An historic moment
In that context, Mongolian futsal will celebrate a very significant milestone this November, when it hosts the Eastern Zone Qualifiers of the Asian Futsal Championship. At the tournament, China PR, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Korea Republic will vie with the hosts for two berths at the final phase of the continental championship, which in turn will decide the AFC’s five representatives at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016.
"Developing football and futsal in a measured way is one of the priorities of our strategic plan for 2012-2022,” Mongoljingoo Sodgerel, a member of the FFM’s Department of Development and International Relations, told FIFA.com.
"With this goal in mind, it would be immensely beneficial if we could compete at a Futsal World Cup. And while we envisage a good performance in the qualifiers for 2016, we expect to see the results for the 2020 edition. We have a generation of talented youngsters, and we’re doing everything in our power to ensure they continue developing."
The national team was still in its infancy in 2011 when Mongolia first participated in the preliminary round of qualifiers for a Futsal World Cup. On that occasion they lost their two games against Korea Republic (5-1) and Hong Kong (3-0), finishing bottom of their group on the road to Thailand 2012. The decision not to take part in the qualifiers for the 2014 Asian Championship was not so much a step backwards as a means of allocating resources with a view to the future.
One aspect of that plan was a series of courses and seminars aimed at training referees and coaches. With these in place, it was then possible to organise futsal tournaments at school level for all age categories, including girls. At the same time, the FFM began staging its two official annual competitions, the Futsal Cup, featuring eight professional clubs, and the City Cup, for which 12 amateur teams compete. In this way, the federation began to see an increase in number of players practicing the sport outside of winter.
At national level, the FFM have continued the process began in 2011, culminating in Erdede Ochi, the then assistant coach, being promoted to head coach. Looking ahead to the November qualifiers, Ochi was frank and realistic when he spoke to FIFA.com. “The overall standard in the region is very high, and it’d be great if we got to compete with such powerful teams as Japan, Iran, Thailand, Kuwait and Uzbekistan. In my opinion, Japan are even contenders for the world title. However, we know it’ll be very difficult to get a chance to face them, but we’ll give it everything.”
For Sodgerel, hosting the Eastern Zone Qualifiers will leave a legacy beyond that of the team’s results. “We’re very proud to be organising the event, not just because of everything we’ve had to do to get to this point, but because the public will get to see the national team play important matches in their own country. This will have a significant impact on football in general and futsal in particular, at all levels,” he concluded.