The 15th Asian Cup, the region's premier football competition, will be held in gas-rich Qatar from 7-29 January and expectations of a tournament to remember are high after Iraq memorably won the final in Jakarta in 2007. Their feat, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0, was one few predicted as the war-torn country celebrated its greatest footballing achievement.
Australia, who made their Asian Cup debut in 2007, go into the hat as Asia's top-ranked side after climbing to 19 in the world. The Socceroos, who struggled to adapt to the conditions during their debut outing after defecting from Oceania, will be hoping to capitalise on a decent 2010 FIFA World Cup™, where they are one of four Asian representatives.
While Asia's big guns safely made the draw, none of the joint hosts from 2007 - Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand - came through qualifying. With Singapore also missing out, south east Asia will have no team at Qatar.
China seek revival
China booked their place in the finals from a qualification group that included Syria, Vietnam, and Lebanon. After failing to get past the group stages in 2007 and drawing serious flak back home, China will be desperate for a friendly draw to try and re-establish their reputation.
Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Syria, Iran and Jordan also battled through qualifying while Qatar were handed a bye as the hosts. Saudi Arabia and South Korea went through automatically after finishing second and third in 2007, while minnows India are in the tournament as the winners of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup.
"Preparations are in full swing," said Qatar organising committee chief executive Saud Al Mohannadi. "The draw, and the tournament, will mark another milestone in Qatar's ambition to establish itself as a sporting metropolis of the Middle East."
The draw gets underway at 1900 local time at the Aspire Dome, the largest indoor sports facility in the world, with the teams slotted into four groups of four. Five stadiums will be used for the tournament, which kicks off in January as opposed to the usual July which coincides with the peak summer heat.