Qatar arrives in Australia in great form and high on confidence after Gulf Cup title success in November. Add to that a 1-0 win over AFC Asian Cup 2015 tournament host Australia in October and a squad brimming with attacking talent and this could well be the gulf nation's time to make a major impact on the continental football scene.
COACH: Djamel BELMADI (ALG)
CAPTAIN: Khalfan IBRAHIM (Al Sadd)
NICKNAME: Al Annabi (The Maroons)
ASIAN CUP APPEARANCES: 8 (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011)
BEST FINISH: Quarter-finals (2000, 2011)
FIFA RANKING: 92
AFC RANKING: 6
HOW IT QUALIFIED: Runner-up to Bahrain in Group D but with an impressive four wins from six matches.
RECENT FORM: Probably the in-form team only conceding five goals in as many matches. A 3-0 win over Estonia and a 2-2 draw with Oman in Canberra on New Year's Eve rounded out its preparation.
MAIN MAN: Khalfan IBRAHIM (Al Sadd)
Diminutive playmaker who is regarded as one of the most talented creative playmakers in Asia. Capable of playing as an advanced midfielder or in a wider role but as his career lengthens he may find a greater role as a deeper lying, tempo-setter.
The 26 year-old was one of the nominees for the AFC Player of the Year and in a new-look Qatar outfit he will be the key rhythm maker.
ONE TO WATCH: Mohammed MUNTARI (El Jaish)
Qatar has long had a succession of foreign-born players being naturalised and turning out for the national team – the latest of those may well turn out to be one of the best.
Blessed with eclectic pace and an eye for goal., when the recently turned 21 year-old declared his intention to play for Qatar, a website from the country of his birth, Ghana, declared it a major blow for the African nation.
"Muntari is one of the brightest talents Ghana can boast of in recent times however the coaches of the youth teams in Ghana failed to follow his progress…which resulted in this decision," the Ghana web portal wrote.
How little the world follows Qatari football can be summed up by the reaction to the omission of Sebastian Soria from the squad named for this Asian Cup.
In his heyday, the naturalised Uruguayan was a star of the national team but with the emergence of players such as Mohammed Muntari and the newly naturalised Mohammed Abdullah the side is blessed with incisive forwards of the highest order.
The work Qatar has been doing at all levels from the grassroots upwards through the astonishing facilities at Aspire and Aspitar has to be seen to be believed – this is a nation that within less than half a decade will surely emerge as an Asian powerhous.
Some of the processes behind the scenes are open to debate but the results are there for all to see – AFC U-19 Champion with a team that boasts players at the youth setups at Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Celtic and Auxerre – and newly crowned Gulf Cup champion. Qatari football is on a seemingly unstoppable upwards trajectory.
One of the first graduates from that program is the dynamic fullback Abdelkarim Hassan while midfielders Ali Asadalla (21) and Boualem Khoukhi (24) are also emblems of the technically outstanding, versatile, new-wave players that Qatar is attracting and producing.
Many are assuming Iran – seemingly as it qualified for the World Cup and little else – is a lock to progress from this group but I'm not so sure.
The UAE and Qatar are moving in a similarly upward direction and I think this Qatar side is good enough to reach the semi-finals, and indeed it wouldn't totally shock if it even won the whole thing.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: 4-3-3
GOALKEEPERS: 1. Qasem BURHAN (Al Gharafa); 21. Ahmed SOUFIANE (El Jaish); 22. Saad AL SHEEB (Al Sadd)
DEFENDERS: 2. Mohammed MUSA (Lekhwiya); 3. Abdelkarim HASSAN (Al Sadd); 4. Almahdi ALI (Al Sadd); 6. Bilal MOHAMMED (Al Gharafa); 7. Khalid MUFTAH (Lekhwiya); 13. Ibrahim MAJID (Al Sadd); 15. Abdurahman ABUBAKAR (El Jaish)
MIDFIELDERS: 5. Abdulaziz HATEM (Al Arabi); 8. Ali ASSADALLA (Al Sadd); 10. Khalfan IBRAHIM (Al Sadd); 12. Magid Mohamed (El Jaish); 14. Khalid ABDULRAOUF (El Jaish); 16. Boualem KHOUKHI (Al Arabi); 19. Mohammed MUNTARI (El Jaish); 20. Karim BOUDIAF (Lekhwiya); 23. Ahmed Abdul MAQSOUD (Umm Salal)
FORWARDS: 9. Meshal ABDULLAH (Al Ahli); 11. Hassan AL HAYDOS (Al Sadd); 17. Ismail MOHAMAD (Lekhwiya); 18. Mohammed Tresor ABDULLAH (Lekhwiya)
GROUP C FIXTURES:
Sunday 11 January 2015
United Arab Emirates v Qatar, Canberra
Thursday 15 January 2015
Qatar v Iran, Sydney
Monday 19 January 2015
Qatar v Bahrain, Sydney