Hero Intercontinental Cup: How Mongolia is connected to Japanese football
Mongolia will play their first-ever game against India on 9 June.
India are set to kick off their 2023 Hero Intercontinental Cup campaign against Mongolia on June 9 at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. It will mark the return of the AFC-affiliated tournament for the first time since 2019 – when North Korea had emerged as the winners.
The inclusion of Mongolia is a particularly interesting one considering that the Blue Tigers have never faced them in competitive football in their history. The Blue Wolves are ranked well behind India in the FIFA world rankings and have never even qualified for an AFC Asian Cup.
The origin behind Mongolia’s connection with Japan
However, the Mongolian Football Federation (MFF) has shown a desire to at least change their rot in international football by partnering up with a fellow Asian nation. On March 30, 2021 – Mongolia suffered an embarrassing 14-0 loss to fellow AFC side Japan in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
Soon after that, the Blue Wolves opted for major change in the way they were run. They released Slovakian manager Rastislav Bozik and decided to bring the Japanese culture to the national team. After that, they decided to appoint Japanese manager Shiuchi Mase, who came with the experience of mostly having coached Japanese clubs in his career.
Mase had played in the United Soccer League of America late in his playing career and is a multi-lingual personality. He brought immediate change to their playing style and attitude, which resulted in instant success. Soon after he arrived, the Japanese coach sparked them to a 1-0 win over Kyrgyz Republic in the final game of their World Cup qualifiers.
That was their first-ever win against a national team under the top-100 FIFA ranking. Luck did help them in their quest, as Kyrgyz Republic needed to play a defender in goal due to all three of their national keepers being out with Covid-related issues.
Japanese coach Ichiro Otsuka trying to march them forward
But just as the progress began under Mase, they received a blow as the Japanese coach had to leave his position at the end of 2021 citing health issues. As a result, the MFF formed a partnership with the Japanese Football Federation and with their help, they appointed Ichiro Otsuka.
Otsuka came with decent experience, having managed a Singapore Premier League club like Albirex Niigata and the Japanese high school team Toyama Daiichi High School. The Japanese mentor has only taken the helm in six matches as Mongolia’s manager, while also training their U-23 team. He’s only helped them to one win, but at least gradually helped improve their playing style.
The Blue Wolves have sometimes played a 4-4-2 formation and reverted to a five-man backline on other occasions, mostly focusing on counter-attacks to hurt their opponents. Mongolia have, however, shown a lot of passion and worked harder than they did in years before the Japanese revolution took over their team.
Ahead of the Hero Intercontinental Cup, the Mongolian side completed a 10-day stay in Japan to use their state-of-the-art facilities to prepare for the matches ahead. Coach Otsuka was able to use his influence to get this training camp organized and the players enjoyed quality training facilities as well as hospitality to get themselves energized for the upcoming matches.
Even if the Blue Wolves might be the proverbial ‘whipping boys’ of the Hero Intercontinental Cup – one thing that can be expected from them is a lot of heart and hard-working ability to take their opponents to the absolute limit.
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