Friday 22 March 2024, 10:40

Mongolia’s international progression continues with FIFA support

  • Mongolian football using FIFA funded Air Dome to cope with rigid winters

  • FIFA Forward influential in the upward trajectory of Mongolian international football

  • Mongolia will kick off their FIFA Series against Azerbaijan in the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium

Bone-chilling would not do justice to the temperatures of a Mongolian winter. This year has been particularly brutal; falling to -45 degrees at points in January with heavy and repeated snowfalls. Such is the extremity of weather that it would not be unusual for the bitterly cold air to freeze eyebrows and eyelashes for those venturing outside, for even the briefest of periods.

Inevitably, the climate has had a pivotal role to play in the sporting culture of the country with football coming to the fore only in the recent history of Mongolia.


The Mongolian Football Federation (MFF) was formed in 1959 but for decades Mongolia had been inactive on the international scene. However, with practical and financial help from FIFA via various FIFA Forward projects,the infrastructure has been modernised and improved, with the opening in April 2023 of the innovative Air Dome a landmark moment.

"The construction of the FIFA-funded Air Dome is a real blessing for all of us," said Head of National Team, Otgonbayar Ishdorj. "Now people can play football in the safety and comfort of the Air Dome, protected from the cold. Before the Air Dome was built, it was almost impossible to play football during the cold months. Now, that’s no longer a problem."

Prior to the realisation of this progressive structure which allows for football in even the most debilitating of climate conditions, development programmes at national and grassroots level had been implemented. A ten-team semi-pro league was launched in 2016, with the significant FIFA Forward investment utilised to improve training centres and construct all-weather pitches.

That development has been reflected in the trajectory of the national team. Since their first World Cup qualifying attempt for the FIFA World Cup 2002, Mongolia have been able to chart consistent progress.

They claimed an historic win when they defeated Myanmar in qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2014 and although they narrowly lost after a 2-0 return defeat, it was a pivotal moment for Mongolian football. There was another notable progression when they made it to the second round of qualification for the FIFA World Cup 2022.

This winter, 90% of Mongolia was at risk from a perilous concoction of extreme cold, blizzards and wild winds – a climate phenomenon known as a dzud. Dzuds used to occur about once every decade, but there have been six in the past 10 years. Mongolians, who depend heavily on livestock for food, fuel, and income, are now experiencing their second consecutive winter with a severe dzud.

In such challenging conditions, football is always going to be difficult. Generally, from November through to March all football activities cease due to the extremity of conditions. Which is where the Air Dome comes in.

"The Air Dome has helped us in many ways," said Ishdorj. "For example, we organise various events and training sessions for women's football and youth football leagues that attract people from other provinces.

"Now that we're putting in more hours and doing it consistently, we'll eventually be able to compete against stronger teams. The Air Dome has also allowed us to join forces and coordinate training sessions more efficiently."

Players gather for a photo after a friendly between hosts Mongolia and Hong Kong U-17 women's teams in the newly constructed air-dome at the MFF National Teams Training Centre

The MFF had approached FIFA with their plan of an Air Dome over the existing artificial surface at the National Team Training Centre, with this vision realised last year. The Air Dome measures 114m x 82m x 29m, with a 1mm thick outdoor membrane and 0.5mm inside membrane. It is corrosion-proof and can withstand temperatures as extreme as -45C.

It is no exaggeration to suggest the dome has been life-changing for Mongolian football.

"The biggest advantage for us, as I said, is that we can play the sport more consistently," continued Ishdorj. "The Air Dome has allowed us to play football all year long."

Off the field there has been a shift in culture too. After a 14-0 defeat to Japan in a second-round match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the MFF and the Japanese Football Federation reached a coaching agreement.

Ichiro Otsuka

Mongolia introduced Shiuchi Mase - who unfortunately had to leave his post due to health concerns – and he was replaced by compatriot Ichiro Otsuka as the MFF formed a partnership with the Japanese Football Federation. Otsuka also oversees the U-23 team.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Japan and Mongolia resulted in a 10-day stay for the Mongolian side ahead of the Hero Intercontinental Cup last year in Japan, giving the players access to state-of-the-art facilities in a five-star training camp.

"Not only are we liaising with the Japanese, we are Asian friends liaising together," said Otsuka. "So, that’s why the JFA sent me. Last year, we had good results against Spain and Germany; we beat them. In the future, of course, Mongolia, we have good talent in the young players – especially the young players – so one day we will be strong and we will beat Japan in the future."

FIFA Football 4 Schools - Mongolia

The FIFA Series will see world football’s governing body support its member associations in organising international friendly matches comprising four national teams from different confederations in a single host country.

The FIFA Series are friendly matches that will be contested by national teams from different confederations, who don’t normally have the opportunity to play each other. The ultimate objective is to allow more international football interaction, making a concrete contribution to global football development.

Mongolia national team lining up

Otsuka has also revealed that he can sense the hunger in his players as they prepare for their opening FIFA Series game against Azerbaijan.

"We usually play against the same level and the same ranking," said Otsuka. "This tournament, the ranking is very high, especially European teams and Africa teams, against them. So, the players are very, very hungry to [play] against high-level teams, so those games will be a good experience for my players."

Mongolia kick off against Azerbaijan in the Tofiq Bahramov stadium on Friday before then facing Tanzania three days later.

"The FIFA Series is a really positive step forward for national-team football at global level," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino. "Our member associations have been telling us for a long time now of their desire to test themselves against their counterparts from all around the world, and now they can do so within the current Men’s International Match Calendar. "More meaningful matches will enable far more valuable footballing interaction for players, teams and fans, and will make a concrete contribution to the development of the game."

And for Mongolia, it is an opportunity to further enhance communication and shared best practice with other associations.

"We are going to learn from the best practices of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan," said Boldbaatar Batkhuu, head of the Mongolia delegation. "In particular, we’d like to learn how women’s and youth football teams are organised. Also, we’d like to get an insight into the Azerbaijani teams that have successfully competed in European competitions.

"We would like to work more closely with the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan. It would be great if Azerbaijani teams could come to Mongolia and share their knowledge and skills with aspiring young players.

I see this event as the first step towards building a solid relationship between our two countries as far as football is concerned."