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  • Justin Grimm

Time to Rethink After FIFA Series Defeats

Image property of the Mongolian Football Federation

While fans around the world quickly fell in love with the new FIFA Series because of its interesting matchups, Mongolian football fans cannot be so positive following this first edition. Despite the optimism and excitement of the fans and the players about challenging Azerbaijan and Tanzania on European soil, the end results have left us with more of the same old disappointment and a feeling of "what's next?".

When looked at in isolation, the team was probably satisfied following the 1-0 defeat to hosts Azerbaijan. Last year, when Mongolia faced its only other European opponent in its history, Georgia, the Blue Wolves lost 1-6. I, like probably many other fans, were optimistic about the team's chances against a perceived "weaker" Tanzanian team following the first narrow defeat. If Mongolia lost by only one goal to Azerbaijan, surely they have a chance against Tanzania, right?


After playing a dogged first half to a 0-0 draw, the Mongolian players just did not have enough fuel left in the tank and let up three goals in the last 45 minutes of the defeat. Perhaps fitness level and tactics are expected to be lacking as the Mongolian football leagues continue the process of professionalizing.

With another two matches without a goal, Mongolia's total rises to seven consecutive contests without scoring. Since the team's last victory in June 2021, it has failed to score in eleven of its last thirteen matches. Although European-based attacker Tuguldur Gantogtokh made his debut in the opening match and appeared in both, the team was without its key playermaker Ganbold Ganbayar.

Mongolian football executives really need to rethink their plan for the national teams moving forward. That change should begin with the coaching staff. The MFF should not, COULD not, have possibly believed that current head coach Ichiro Otsuka was the right man for the job when they brought him on board. This is his first role as a national team manager with the vast majority of his career spent at the helm of a HIGH SCHOOL team. The partnership with the Japan Football Federation has not been fruitful as the two manager's sent through the agreement have been total duds. Otsuka's predecessor, Shuichi Mase, left the team for health reasons after a single match, albeit a victory.

Otsuka has a 1-2-9 record in twelve matches at the helm. Low points in his tenure include a defeat to tiny Vanuatu and being one of the first nations in the world to crash out of 2026 World Cup qualifying, losing on 0-2 aggregate to Afghanistan.

In addition to an apparent lack of vision and the ability to organize or motivate the players, Otsuka has made some interesting roster selections. Top young players like Ankhbayar Sodmönkh were cut from the final squad while other players who have already had a chance to impress but have done nothing for the team remained.

With the current unbelievable dry spell in the scoring department, one would think that perhaps the team's all-time top scorer Naranbold Nyam-Osor would get a call-up. Still just 32 years of age, Naranbold has not earned a single cap since June 2022, approaching two years ago, despite still being a top scorer in the Premier League. He is one of those players that was able to make a little magic while playing for his country, something Mongolia could use more of.

Perhaps the most telling reason to want a coaching change is that we know the team is capable of doing much better. If you compare the many accomplishments and "firsts" under former manager Michael Weiss, you can see what Mongolia is capable of with the right experienced coach. Perhaps the MFF is simply waiting for Otsuka's contract to expire, or perhaps the federation is just not ambitious enough to look further. Regardless, the end of Otsuka's tenure will be a welcome shift whenever it comes.



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