Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023, know your opponents: Mongolia national football team
The side from the East Asian region have not had much success at the international stage, but have been punching above their weight in recent times with spirited performances.
The Indian football team kick start their Hero Intercontinental Cup campaign against Mongolia at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneswar, on Friday. Ranked 183 in the FIFA rankings, Mongolia are the lowest-ranked team in the competition and will be taking on India for the first time in history.
Known as the Blue Wolves, Mongolia will later face Lebanon and Vanuatu after the opening match against India. The side from the East Asian region have not had much success at the international stage, but have been punching above their weight in recent times with spirited performances.
With that, let’s take a closer look at their national team.
Established in 1959, the Mongolian national team did not feature in any international games for a long gap of 38 years before being affiliated with FIFA in 1998. Since then, the East Asian side has not featured in many international friendly games apart from the FIFA World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers alongside participation in the East Asian Football Federation Championship.
Just like India, Mongolia have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup.
Since 2022, the Mongolian national team has been on an upward trajectory, registering some impressive results. They advanced to the second round of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for the first time during the 2022 edition. The secured gritty 1-0 victories over two higher-ranked sides in Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic during the qualifiers, enduring a fourth-placed finish in their group that also included the likes of Japan and Tajikistan.
In the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers, Mongolia suffered narrow 1-0 defeats to Palestine and Philippines before ending their campaign on a high with 2-0 win against Yemen, another higher-ranked opponent.
Head to Head
India have never faced Mongolia before and the two sides will take on each other for the first time in the Hero Intercontinental Cup.
Attacking midfielder Ganbayar is Mongolia’s most exciting and creative player. Having also represented the Mongolia national side at the youth level, he became the first player from his country to secure a professional contract overseas when he signed for Hungarian club Puskas Akademia FC in 2018.
The 22-year-old has also been part of loan stints with Hungary’s Aqvital FC Csakvar and Slovakian club KFC Komarno, having represented the latter during the 2022-23 season. He had an impressive loan spell at KFC Komarno, registering nine goal contributions across 33 games in the II Liga, Slovakia’s second division. Known for his terrific vision, mazy dribbling and his ability to pop up with goals, Ganbayar is the heartbeat of the Mongolian side.
Captain of the side and the eldest member of the Mongolian national team squad, Khurelbaatar is the only player from the current squad with the most caps for the national team. He has made over 32 appearances in national team colours, having first made his senior team debut in 2007.
Khurelbaatar offers a mix of steel and creativity to Mongolia’s midfield and will be pulling the strings in the middle of the park. With many young players in the current squad, the central midfielder’s leadership and experience will be vital as they play on Indian soil for the first time.