This month, Qatar and Japan are set to play in South America's premier international football competition, the Copa America, as the tournament's two invitational teams. For Japan, this will be the second time playing the tournament. But for Qatar, this is unchartered territory.
By accepting an invitation from South America's football governing body, CONMEBOL, to play in Copa America, Qatar have done what Japan did in 1999. The Samurai Blue had participated at the event in 1999, three years before the World Cup they co-hosted with South Korea.
In that edition, Japan managed to get just a point in three games before bowing out in the group stages. But the experience of playing against top South American opposition proved invaluable. In 2002, Japan went on to top their group at the World Cup before suffering a narrow 1-0 loss to Turkey in the Round of 16.
Qatari football is currently going through its best-ever phase. The national team's extraordinary Asian Cup win earlier this year came as a surprise to many but the manner in which they won the tournament left no doubt about their new status in the sport. Qatar eased past Lebanon, North Korea and bitter regional foes Saudi Arabia in the group stages before beating Iraq, South Korea, another bitter rival in UAE, and Japan to lift the title. All this while just conceding one goal in the tournament.
Making their triumph sweeter was the fact that Qatar navigated through the most hostile of atmospheres in the UAE, particularly in the later stages of the tournament. With their Asian Cup win, Qatar proved they are no longer also-rans, but the continent's new top dogs.
Powered by talent produced from the highly-reputed Aspire Academy, Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez has put together a team capable of brushing shoulders with the sport's best.
The recent 2-0 loss to Brazil in an international friendly in Brasilia earlier this month also had some positives for Qatar. For large parts of the game, Brazil's famed attack struggled to break down Qatar's resilient defence while the visitors from Asia themselves managed to fashion a few chances of their own.
It was a promising build-up to their debut at the Copa America, where they have been placed in a tough group alongside Paraguay, Colombia and Argentina. Advancing from the group will be a difficult proposition for Qatar given the strength of the opponents. But with two of the third-placed teams from the three groups making the quarters, just one win could be enough to book Qatar's place in the last eight.
But more importantly, Qatar have a golden chance to test themselves against strong opposition outside of Asia and gauge where they stand three years before they host the World Cup.
The likes of Almoez Ali, Bassam Al-Rawi and Akram Afif, among others, impressed at the Asian Cup this year and now have another big platform to showcase what they are capable of. With some of the world's top clubs taking note of the proceedings in Brazil, it will also be an opportunity for Qatar's best players to possibly secure moves to Europe.