By Paul Nicholson
June 5 – With all the recent distractions of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s geo-political game-playing around a 48-team Qatar 2022 World Cup out the way, preliminary qualification begins tomorrow for a good ‘old-fashioned’ 32-team one, with the road to Doha beginning in Mongolia.
The Asian Football Confederation’s preliminary qualifiers will see 12 teams in action – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Guam, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste – with six going through to the second round draw on July 17 when they will join the 40 other AFC member associations.
That Mongolia should be starting the 2022 World Cup odyssey is apt – they play Brunei Darussalam – as this is a federation that did not join the AFC until 1997 but has recently embraced the opportunities opened by the AFC’s development programmes becoming something of beacon nation to those aspiring to fully embrace and grow their football.
Realistically Mongolia aren’t going to make it to the final tournament in Qatar in 2022 – as they didn’t for the 2018 World Cup when they also opened qualification matches with a 4-1 loss to Timor-Leste, a result later overturned when Timor-leste were found to be packed full of Brazilians. However, Mongolia might make it to the next round of qualifying. What they embody is the hope, aspirations and excitement that World Cup football brings. But more than that, they are actually a recognisable part of it, and should be feted for being so. The World Cup is as much theirs as it is France’s or even FIFA’s – a sadly often missed understanding amongst the obesity and obsequity of FIFA’s over-monied elite. But it is that understanding that actually underpins what makes the World Cup the biggest and most inclusive event in the world.
Mongolia is a country of 3 million people boasting a National League and a League 1, that has revamped its national stadium in Ulaanbaatar (where the first ball of Qatar 2022 will be kicked) and has even embraced the AFC’s streaming platform with Mycujoo to the point of producing not just live matches (now with commentary after a request to the AFC on what they needed to do) but also a full broadcast show that can be taken to national broadcasters.
Mongolian Football Federation president Ganbaatar Amgalanbaatar, also an AFC vice president was in Paris this week at the FIFA Congress. Last week he was in Ulaanbaatar with AFC representatives and students at School No. 79 announcing that they will build a new football pitch supported by the Asian Football Confederation Dream Asia Foundation.
The idea to build a football pitch was floated 12 months ago after tragedy struck School No. 79 when an 11-year-old male student tragically died when a goal post fell on him.
“Last year, on this pitch, one little boy who loves football passed away right here because of the heavy goal post. It was very sad and a pity. I mentioned this to AFC President, His Excellency Shaikh Salman when he visited Mongolia. When he heard about that, he promised us that he will build a new standard pitch and new standard goal post. That’s why we are gathering here and kicking off this project,” said Amgalanbaatar.
“This is very important because this school is located at the western part of the city. It is not easy for children to go to the central of the city to play football because it is very far. There will be a new pitch in autumn and around 2,000 students can play football here and not in the city. We have to remember the little boy. This is a very important project.”
Fast forward a week later and Mongolia are creating a small but significant piece of history playing in the first game of the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifying. A World Cup that now begins for real in Ulaanbataar and will finish in Doha.
Genghis Khan, who established the Mongol Empire in 1206, and which became the largest entirely connected (contiguous) empire in history, will surely be looking down in pride that his people are still leading by example and making noteworthy marks on the world – just on a smaller scale.
One wonders what he would think about the leadership of FIFA’s global empire.
And as for the Mongolia vs Brunei Darusalaam first leg – you can watch it live on MyCujoo.
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