Mongolia have the co-privilege of starting the race to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™. The Blue Wolves entertain Brunei Darussalam in the globe’s first qualifier, in one of six first-round ties in the Asian preliminaries, on Thursday.
Despite having never progressed beyond the maiden hurdle, Mongolians are upbeat they can defeat opponents seven places to their south on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking over two legs. So, too, is the man they’ve tasked with pathfinding.
"I have confidence in Mongolia," German coach Michael Weiss told FIFA.com. "We have worked hard together for two years.
“The team has made consistent progress and they are stable. I am confident that we are capable of overcoming our opponents to reach the second round."
The former Philippines coach is fresh from returning with his squad from a ten-day training camp in Thailand.
"We enter qualifying well-prepared,” said the 54-year-old. “We have travelled to China, Japan, South Korea for training camps or friendlies and by doing so, the players have gained necessary international exposure and experience. Of course, we can't get too carried away."
Weiss is no stranger to Asia's World Cup qualifying scene. In the Brazil 2014 preliminaries, he guided the Philippines to the second qualifying round for the first time in their history, courtesy of an aggregate reverse of Sri Lanka. For him, the tasks facing Mongolia now are reminiscent of what he encountered with the Azkals.
"To be honest, it really reminds me of my previous experiences with the Philippines," he said. "Now, looking back, people say it was a big success.
"Before kick-off, we didn’t know what would happen. We played the first leg away and drew 1-1. It was still up in the air.
“But when we played against them in Manila, things changed. When the floodlights were turned on, with a packed stadium behind us, we beat them 4-0.”
Encouragingly, Weiss and Mongolia will enjoy the same benefit at the MFF Football Centre.
"This match is already sold out,” he said. “Four thousand fans will show up."
Adding to his confidence is the fact that Mongolia have turned the venue into something of a fortress over the past year, beating Macau 4-1 before dismantling Northern Mariana Islands 8-0 in EAFF Championship 2019 qualification.
"The Mongolian fans are passionate and everyone was happy with those results,” said Weiss. “We can see that the passion for football in this country has been ignited.”
The future's bright
Since he took over in 2017, Weiss has focused on youth development: “We have concentrated on cultivating young players because I believe that only with youngsters making progress can a team have a bright future.”
To complement the young legs with old heads, Weiss has recalled veterans including Garidmagnai Bayasgalan and Tsend-Ayuush Khurelbaatar.
“These players are campaign-hardened,” he explained. “They can help the team with their experience. Now our team is hitting the right balance between old and new.
“Mongolian football is making progress. Our players are getting stronger both physically and mentally. Aside from the senior national team, the U-19 and U-20 sides have been established and I think in four or five years, Mongolian football will be in a very good place.”