The FIFA World Cup 2022 is just around the corner.
With just two months to go, the four-year wait will be over when the biggest tournament in world football gets underway again – this time in Qatar from November 20th to December 18th.
With the competition taking place in the winter this year, competition schedules around the world have been shifted to make room for a mid-season break.
It also means that – since the start of the new European club football campaign in August – the current international break is the only one countries will get before November and they need to start building their squads ahead of the A with a few friendlies ahead of the tournament .
With that in mind, what are the big questions hanging over Asia’s World Cup hopes that will hopefully be answered in the next week or so?
Will Qatar prove the real deal?
Expectations are high for Qatar as hosts, but it should also be remembered that they have never competed at this level before.
However, they are the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions and have gained valuable experience from away appearances at both the 2019 Copa America and last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they put up a respectable run to the semi-finals before eventually ending up with a narrow 0 : 1 loss lost to eventual winners USA.
However, their last game on Tuesday resulted in a disappointing 3-0 loss to Croatia U-23 in an unofficial friendly.
They will be hoping for better performances in the coming days against a Canadian team also heading for the World Cup and a Chilean side who should offer a real challenge with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Ben Brereton Diaz.
Qatar have some talent in Almoez Ali and Akram Afif but whether they are up to the task or not could make or break the Maroons’ World Cup debut.
Will Carlos Queiroz make an instant impression?
Iran’s prospects of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time have been given a huge boost by the recent return of Carlos Queiroz as coach.
This year’s tournament will be the third consecutive World Cup with the Portuguese at the helm of Team Melli and they will certainly take heart from their performances last time out – when they narrowly missed advancing by just one point from a formidable group to do so also belonged to Spain and Portugal.
Queiroz’s re-appointment has been welcomed by fans but also players alike, not only because of the esteem they have shown him before, but also because several senior members of the team reportedly had an uneasy relationship with his predecessor Dragan Skocic.
Queiroz has wasted no time in recalling some of his favorites and the Iran squad is packed with talent and experience with European-based names like Mehdi Taremi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun.
Both Iran and their returning coach can make an instant mark in the forthcoming games against top-flight opponents in Uruguay and Senegal.
Can the inexperienced Saudi Arabia hold their own against the world elite?
The odd thing about the current Saudi Arabia squad is that for a team that isn’t exactly the youngest, they aren’t exactly the most experienced on the international stage.
From the latest list for games against Ecuador and the United States, only five players have more than 50 caps and 17 actually have 30 caps or less to their credit.
This should not automatically be taken as a weakness as there are several late bloomers in the Saudi Arabia team including the impressively towering centre-back Abdullah Madu.
But it’s a bit of an anomaly that the Green Falcons could potentially have a back four with an average age of 30.25 but just 36 caps. Things aren’t getting any better in attack, with 22-year-old Firas Al-Buraikan (six goals in 22 caps) the most experienced option.
It suggests Saudi Arabia will need to be fueled by their midfield brigade, which has the most experience with Fahad Al-Muwallad, Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari, who currently have 203 caps combined.
Could Japan desperately need a real No. 9?
Since the last World Cup in Russia, Yuya Osako has led the line for Japan and while he may not be a prolific goalscorer, he has always offered plenty as a center of attack to bring others into the game.
With Osako absent for the forthcoming friendlies against the United States and Ecuador, it remains to be seen who could fill his void.
All four options offered by coach Hajime Moriyasu are severely lacking in international experience. Even with Kyogo Furuhashi the senior of the group, Moriyasu has previously revealed his fears of choosing him as the main attacking player during Asia’s World Cup qualifiers.
Daizen Maeda and Ayase Ueda both have the potential – and desire – to try and prove they can play the No. 9 role for the Samurai Blue at the World Cup, even if they only come together for a single goal at international level are.
Should none of those options stand the test over the next week or so, Moriyasu might be best served by remembering Osako or one of the old guard – even if his reluctance to go for bloodier faces has been a criticism of him before.
How well endowed is Son Heung-min’s supporting actor?
Son Heung-min’s 13-minute hat-trick off the bench against Leicester for Tottenham at the weekend gave a sigh of relief to all those investing in South Korea’s fortunes.
With Son ready for the season, the South Koreans can once again dream of scoring in Qatar later in the year.
But even if they don’t need a plan B for now, they still need a supporting cast to support their leading man. How exactly are Son’s teammates faring so far this season?
On the defensive side, Kim Min-jae is in the best form of his career and has made an immediate impression since moving to Serie A with Napoli, while Lee Jae-sung remains a regular for Bundesliga side Mainz but there are others who there are improvements to be made.
Hwang Ui-jo and Hwang In-beom are currently finding their feet after both joining Olympiakos in the summer and can be given some leeway as they’ve made consistent contributions before, while Hwang Hee-chan is doing his best to add more starting XI get action at wolves.
Nonetheless, it’s Lee Kang-in and Jeong Woo-yeong – both previously touted as the next big thing for South Korea – who should really start playing a more prominent role in the Taegeuk Warriors. Maybe that can start in the upcoming games against Costa Rica and Cameroon.