Ulaanbaatar, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — European glamor teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid do not visit Mongolia on lucrative preseason tours, but this oft-forgotten Asian soccer outpost is about to get a taste of the big time on the qualifying road to the 2022 World Cup.
Soccer is far from the most popular sport in Mongolia but that may start to change after the country was drawn Wednesday with its first-ever appearance in the second round of World Cup qualifying with matches against Japan.
That could mean a visit from Shinji Kagawa on March 31 and other players on the side who compete in the top European leagues.
Kagawa is one of the few public signs of the sport on the congested streets of Ulaanbaatar, home to around half of the country's population of three million. The Borussia Dortmund player beams down from billboards that advertise the partnership between the German club and Mongolian Airlines.
"To play a big team like Japan will be very meaningful for Mongolia," national team coach Michael Weiss told The Associated Press. "Football is not a very big thing in Mongolia though there is interest and it is becoming more fashionable."
"Such a game will help promote the sport in a country without genuine professional clubs. More interest and then sponsors come on board then so does the government and then there is progress."
Mongolia, ranked 187th in the world, edged past Brunei in the first round in June to earn a place in Group F in the second round and eight much-needed competitive games. The climax will come against Japan. The Samurai Blue, ranked 28th, reached the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
They will likely face sub-zero temperatures even at the end of March. The harsh Mongolian climate sees long winters with the mercury ranging from between -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) to -40C (-40F) and does not lend itself to soccer. Archery, horse racing and wrestling are all more popular.
"Of course, the climate makes it hard but even in terms of facilities and general conditions we are far behind the rest of Asia," Weiss said. "I am not talking about Japan, China or South Korea but places like Bangladesh and Laos —these are the countries we have to compete with."
In order to do so, the other six games in the group are as important as the meetings with Japan. The second stage kicks off on Sept. 5 with a home game with Myanmar before meetings with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Had Mongolia lost to Brunei in June then there would be no group stage and no competitive games at all until 2023.
"We would have been out of the picture for a long time if we had lost to Brunei," said Weiss, a veteran manager from Germany who was appointed to the Mongolian role in 2017. "That would have been very bad for us. We need these games so we can get the players together and we can help them develop."
Only the eight group winners and the four best second-place teams progress to the next stage where Asia's four automatic World Cup spots are up for grabs. That is the target for Japan, but for Mongolia the situation is a little more modest.
"We know that we are not going to be one of the 12 teams that go to the next stage but this is the start of a process for us," Weiss said. "We have put the train on the tracks and now we can start moving forward."
Perth, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — Anthony Martial's 69th-minute penalty completed the scoring in Manchester United's 4-0 win over Leeds on Wednesday for its second consecutive victory on a preseason tour.
United led 2-0 at halftime on goals from 17-year-old Mason Greenwood in the seventh minute and England striker Marcus Rashford, who was named man of the match, in the 27th. Paul Pogba's pass split the Leeds defense and Aaron Wan-Bissaka's first-time cross was prodded home by Greenwood to open the scoring.
Phil Jones, left unmarked on a corner kick, powered a header into the back of the net for the other second-half goal in the 51st minute.
"The squad is strong, today just shows we have strength in depth, young players coming through and pace up front," United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
In its tour opener last Saturday, United beat the A-League's Perth Glory 2-0. The two matches attracted crowds of more than 110,000, including 55,274 for Wednesday's match at the new Perth Stadium.
Team officials said United striker Romelu Lukaku did not play Wednesday's match due to a training injury, while goalkeeper David De Gea was ill.
Juan Mata captained the side and Wan-Bissaka made his first start for United, which again made 11 changes at halftime.
Leeds, which plays in the second tier in England, moves to Sydney to play the A-League's Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.
Man United next plays Inter Milan at the National Stadium in Singapore on Saturday, then Tottenham at the Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai on July 25. It concludes its five-match preseason tour against AC Milan in Cardiff on Aug. 3.
Cairo, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria beat Tunisia 1-0 in the third-place game at the African Cup of Nations on Wednesday with an early goal by Odion Ighalo, the tournament's leading scorer.
Ighalo scored from close range in the third minute when he took advantage of a mix-up in the Tunisian defense at Al Salam Stadium to net his fifth goal in Egypt.
Ighalo was substituted before halftime and left the field holding his left leg, an unexpected end to a tournament where he's on course to finish as top scorer.
There are three players who could catch him in the final: Algeria pair Riyad Mahrez and Adam Ounas, and Senegal's Sadio Mane all have three goals.
Algeria and Senegal meet Friday at Cairo International Stadium, where Algeria can claim a second title and first since 1990 and Senegal can win the African Cup for the first time.
Ighalo poked home in the opening minutes at Al Salam to take advantage of the confusion in the Tunisian defense.
Tunisia goalkeeper Moez ben Cherifia dived to cut out a cross from Jamilu Collins on the left. The ball came off the keeper's hand, rebounded off defender Yassine Meriah, back onto ben Cherifia, and sat in front of goal for Ighalo to score easily.
Tunisia's best chance came right after halftime when substitute Firas Chaouat was played in by Wahbi Khazri and sliced his shot wide with only the goalkeeper in front of him. Ellyes Skhiri had a header cleared off the line in the closing minutes.
Nigeria also went close in the second half when Samuel Chukwueze whipped a left-foot shot toward the top corner and ben Cherifia dived to claw it away.
In injury time, Nigeria substitute Samuel Kalu had two free kicks saved by ben Cherifia. The first was tipped over and the second scrambled away low down.
Glasgow, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — Celtic eased through the Champions League's first qualifying round by beating Sarajevo 2-1 on Wednesday to complete a 5-2 aggregate win.
The 1967 European Cup winner got goals in each half from Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor, and will next play Nomme Kalju of Estonia.
Sutjeska of Montenegro scored deep into stoppage time to level the aggregate score at 2-2 against Slovan Bratislava and force extra time, then later won a penalty shootout 3-2. Goalkeeper Vladan Giljen saved two spot kicks from the visiting Slovakian side.
With two goals in the final 10 minutes, BATE Borisov of Belarus won 2-1 at Piast Gliwice of Poland to advance 3-2 on aggregate.
Romania's CFR Cluj rallied from a 2-0 aggregate deficit against Astana to win 3-1 on the night and 3-2 overall.
Dundalk of Ireland won a penalty shootout 5-4 at Riga after two goalless games.
Also advancing were Ferencvaros of Hungary, Slovenia's Maribor, AIK of Sweden, Qarabag of Azerbaijan, and Norway's Rosenborg.
The second qualifying round will be played July 23-24 and 30-31.
Before those games, UEFA makes pairings for the third qualifying round Monday when teams including Ajax, a semifinalist last season, Porto and Dynamo Kiev enter the draw.
Bridgeview, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — Romario Williams scored on a header in the 90th minute, shortly after entering as a second-half substitute, and the Columbus Crew tied the Chicago Fire 2-2 on Wednesday night.
Columbus (5-14-3) snapped a five-game losing streak, but has just one win in its last 16 matches. Chicago (5-9-8) had lost back-to-back games.
Djordje Mihailovic opened the scoring for Chicago in the 28th minute, settling a pass with his chest and one-touching it past goalkeeper Joe Bendik. C.J. Sapong gave Chicago a 2-1 lead in the 63rd when a deflected pass fell to his feet for a close-range shot between the legs of Bendik.
Gyasi Zardes tied it at 1 in the 47th for Columbus with a redirection of Luis Argudo's pass along the 6-yard box.