AFC Asian Cup 2023 is still a year away. But the 24-team lineup will be finalised in the coming week with the third and final round of qualifiers.
13 contenders are already through by virtue of their achievements in the previous round, which saw them march on in the FIFA World Cup section of the joint qualifiers -- Japan, Syria, Qatar, South Korea, Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, China PR, Iraq, Oman, Vietnam and Lebanon.
11 more teams will advance over the course of the next seven days with six group winners along with the five best-placed runners-up qualifying.
Although the tournament was originally to be hosted in China, a new venue will now have to be selected following their withdrawal due to the COVID-19 situation in the country.
While there is uncertainty over where the competition will be held, there will be no doubt who will be competing for Asian football's biggest prize by June 14.
Here, we take a look at the six groups in the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers and assess who is likeliest to book their place in the tournament.
GROUP A: Jordan, Kuwait (hosts), Indonesia, Nepal
Curiously, Group A features three teams that met in the second round of qualifiers in Jordan, Kuwait and Nepal -- with Indonesia the fresh addition to the mix.
On paper, Jordan will be favourites to finish top as the only team not only to have featured as the last Asian Cup, but also inside the top 100 in the FIFA world rankings.
Kuwait however might have been able to say the same for themselves had it not been for a FIFA ban a few years ago. At their best, they can be a tough proposition and they did rack up 19 goals in eight games at the previous stage.
Indonesia are a young team on the rise, boasting some prodigiously-gifted talent in the likes of Witan Sulaeman and Pratama Arhan, but the luck of the draw -- having pitted them against Jordan and Kuwait -- might just prove costly.
Prediction: Jordan and Kuwait to finish in the top two and both to comfortably qualify.
GROUP B: Palestine, Philippines, Yemen, Mongolia (hosts)
Palestine, Philippines and Yemen were all present at the last Asian Cup in 2019, which means at least one will not be making it back to Asia's biggest stage next year.
Philippines actually look a real chance to finish top based on their displays in the previous round, where they produced a series of creditable showings against the likes of Syria and China. Nonetheless, they have recently undergone upheaval in the coaching ranks.
Palestine should be looking to finish inside the top two although they did share a win each with Yemen when both teams met previously in the second round.
Meanwhile, Mongolia will be hoping to make the most of their home advantage but are likely to finish bottom of the pile.
Prediction: Philippines and Palestine to claim top-two finishes, but any slip-ups for either against Yemen -- or even a draw against one another -- could make things slightly nervy for the runners-up.
GROUP C: Uzbekistan (hosts), Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka
Group C is looking rather straightforward with Uzbekistan and Thailand the clear standouts.
Thailand are still coming off the high of winning a record-extending 6th AFF Suzuki Cup at the start of the year and did feature in the Round of 16 at the last Asian Cup, while the Uzbeks are perennial challengers -- meaning a failure to qualify this time around would be a genuine shock.
Unfortunately for Maldives and Sri Lanka, the presence of two genuine contenders should make for a tough campaign.
Prediction: Both Uzbekistan and Thailand should at least get six points comfortably to advance as winners and runners-up.
GROUP D: India (hosts), Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Cambodia
A genuinely tough group to call with India perhaps having a slight edge due to their hosts status, as well as the fact they did feature back in 2019.
Hong Kong are a team with plenty of potential -- as illustrated by leading club side Kitchee reaching the AFC Champions League Round of 16 this season -- but that success is yet to be replicated on the international scene.
Afghanistan's inconsistency also makes them a bit of an unknown quantity, while Cambodia have made forward strides with Japan legend Keisuke Honda at the helm but are still raw at this level.
Prediction: India to qualify as group winners. Hong Kong to finish second but they will have to hope to do enough to advance as one of the best runners-up.
GROUP E: Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Malaysia (hosts), Bangladesh
Bahrain will be the favourites in Group E and it will not be beyond them to claim a perfect three wins over the next seven days.
On paper, Turkmenistan -- who featured at the Asian Cup for only the second time back in 2019 -- should be next in line but, in reality, there is very little separating them and Malaysia in terms of quality.
The Malaysians do have a new man at the helm in South Korean Kim Pan-gon and how well he can get his charges playing the way he wants them to could be a huge factor, especially against Turkmenistan -- with maximum points against Bangladesh a non-negotiable.
Harimau Malaya's home advantage -- both with the climate and their vociferous support -- could prove to be a real factor.
Prediction: Bahrain to finish top with ease, with Malaysia rising to the occasion to claim a place at the Asian Cup with a runners-up finish.
GROUP F: Kyrgyz Republic (hosts), Tajikistan, Myanmar, Singapore
Group F is looking another evenly-matched group with each team potentially capable of beating any other on their day.
For now, Kyrgyz Republic will be the frontrunners while Myanmar -- not helped by some off-field issues in recent years -- might be the strugglers of the group.
That could potentially leave Tajikistan and Singapore battling it out for the second spot, and their clash on June 11 might just be a decisive tie.
Prediction: Kyrgyz Republic to back up their 2019 debut with a second appearance at next year's Asian Cup, while Tajikistan to finish second and give themselves a real chance.