Football's 2011 AFC Asian Cup will be played from January 7 to 29 in the Gulf state of Qatar. 16 of Asia's best national football teams will be seen in action. There is special interest around the world after the Asian Cup organisers Qatar were last month surprisingly named as the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The defending champions Iraq had surprised everyone by winning the 2007 Asian Cup finals 1-0 against Saudi Arabia in Jakarta in a tournament co-hosted by four Southeast Asian nations - Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, who this time will all be missing from the tournament.
The qualification process for the Asian Cup is quite complicated. The top three nations from the last edition - Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea qualified directly along with the hosts Qatar. Further India and North Korea qualified as the 2008 & 2010 champions of the AFC Challenge Cup, Asia's second tier national team competition while 10 further nations through the continental qualifiers.
The opening match will see hosts Qatar take on Uzbekistan, while China and Kuwait are also part of an evenly poised Group A. Group B will see one of the tournament favourites Japan taking on Middle Eastern sides in heavyweight Saudi Arabia plus rising powers in Jordan and Syria.
The biggest unknown is the Indian national team, who return to the Asian stage after 27 long years. And the 142nd world ranked India have been drawn in Group C, the tournaments group of death, along with Asian heavyweights Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Meanwhile in Group D World Cuppers North Korea will have to prove their worth at Asian level against defending champions Iraq, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
So who are the title favourites? Former German goalkeeper Lutz Pfannenstiel, who has played across the Asian continent, told me: "I think that there will be no big surprises. Japan and South Korea will be up there but I think quality-wise Australia has overall the best team."
Other experts say a Middle Eastern side could use the home advantage and cause an upset like Iraq did four years ago.
When one talks about the likely star performers then one will have to talk about in-form players like Manchester United star Ji-Sung Park of South Korea, Japan's Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Australian Tim Cahill of Everton FC. But such tournaments have shown that often the pre-tournament stars aren't there towards the end of the tournament and new stars are born.
An interesting Asian Cup is upon us which will further push the cause of Asian football and over the next three weeks the eyes of the football world will be looking at Qatar to see how they host Asia's premier football competition, the first real test for the Qataris.