Forced to stage what was nominally a 'home' fixture in the Middle East due to their homeland's strict quarantine rules, and missing several stars who had opted out as a result, the Socceroos had to weather an early onslaught from their foes and Espanyol attacker Wu Lei hit the side netting of Mat Ryan's goal in just the third minute.
The Australians settled into the game after a fraught 15 minutes, however, and largely toyed with their foes from that point: Goals from Awer Mabil and Martin Boyle gave them a 2-0 lead at halftime, and they added another in the second half through substitute Mitch Duke.
China were clearly second best, and coach Li Tie's side was increasingly pinned back, unable to get their counter-attack going, all but hoisting the white flag by the end of the 90 minutes.
Riding a record nine-game winning streak in Asian competition, coach Graham Arnold's Socceroos will now fly to Hanoi to take on Vietnam on Tuesday evening, while China -- also forced to stage 'home' qualifiers in Qatar due to quarantine regulations at home -- will face rivals Japan on Wednesday.
Two Decisive Minutes
The Socceroos' 24th-minute opener represented a number of things -- Mabil's fourth goal for the national side, Adam Taggart's first assist in Green and Gold, and the 29th goal of their team's qualification campaign.
The goal arrived after centre back Trent Sainsbury whipped a long ball upfield to Mabil; the ball fell into a penalty box scramble for Taggart to collect and dink towards the back post, where Mabil scrambled it home.
The goal won't go down as an example of jogo bonito, but it's doubtful that Arnold cared as it was an important reward for the swing in momentum that his side had forced ten minutes earlier; the Socceroos capitalized on their newfound control of the game in a manner that previous iterations have struggled to do so.
China's central defenders Yu Dabao and Tyias Browning struggled to follow Australia's movement, and the Socceroos' much more aesthetically pleasing second goal came when Taggart, Tom Rogic, and Boyle combined smoothly before the latter fired into the bottom corner.
The goal effectively served to kill the game off after just 25 minutes.
So high were the Socceroos' tails after their second goal that they may have proven a threat to any low-flying aircraft over Doha, while their foes went into damage-control mode -- looking to get numbers behind the ball to prevent their goal difference from taking a battering on the first day of qualification.
China threatened very occasionally hinted at a counter-attack, but Australia's centre backs Harry Souttar and Sainsbury ensured that Ryan, playing his first game since July knee surgery, didn't have to account for a single shot on target.
Duke's 71st-minute strike to make it 3-0, blasting home Yan Junling's parried save of a Mabil shot, came off one of a cavalcade of chances that the Socceroos created with ease in the second half; Australia were effectively given free rein outside the penalty effort to figure out a way through the wall of red shirts.
Setting the Table
Given the meek nature of China's performance, it's difficult to make any definitive declarations surrounding the state of the Socceroos heading into this more difficult third phase of qualification. By the final whistle, proceedings effectively began to resemble something of a training drill.
But given the disjointed preparations of the Socceroos, and the need to re-integrate a number of key contributors to the squad, a training session masquerading as a competitive fixture may have been just what they needed.
Arnold, who has been unable to return home due to Australia's 14-day quarantine requirements, and who has effectively been living out of his suitcase since June, was without regular assistant coaches Rene Meulensteen and Tony Vidmar due to COVID and travel problems as his squad enjoyed just two days of training -- in contrast to China's 12-day camp.
The squad was also without captain Mathew Leckie, striker Jamie Maclaren, and winger Chris Ikonomidis among "eight or nine" A-League based players whom Arnold would have called up had they not ruled themselves out due to the aforementioned 14-day quarantine.
"I was very proud of the performance of the players considering we'd only had one and a half training sessions since we got together," Arnold said post-game.
"I can just see so much improvement in our team. I do believe that we will get better and better as we play more and more games together."
Supplying the assist for Boyle's second goal, and laying the table perfectly for the Mabil shot that led to Duke's third, Rogic was superb in his first game for the national side since Nov. 2019.
Confident in possession, always looking to advance the ball into dangerous positions either with his feet or passing, and consistently flashing silky touch and skill, the Celtic attacker's form at club level didn't miss a beat upon his return to the national team.
The J1 League-based Taggart also turned in a strong performance after fitness struggles and disjointed club form had restricted his minutes during the Socceroos' June run of qualifiers. He assisted Mabil's first goal and fed Rogic for the assist on Boyle's second, and his fluid movement and ability to find pockets of space proved a nightmare for the Chinese before his second-half substitution.
With Maclaren and Leckie shaping as being unavailable until the Australian government's travel regulations change, the 28-year-old did his chances of regular starts for the Socceroos no harm.
The Rest of Asia
Regulation as the Socceroos' victory may have been, its importance was magnified by the chaotic results that befell the rest of the Asian Football Confederation on the first matchday of the third phase of World Cup qualification.
Elsewhere in Australia's Group B, Japan, a prohibitive favourite to secure qualification for a seventh straight World Cup, lost 1-0 to Oman at the Suita City Stadium in Osaka.
Vietnam, making their first appearance at this stage of qualification, rode their one shot on goal to a 1-0 lead over Saudi Arabia before a 54th-minute red card to Do Duy Manh -- who will miss Tuesday's game against Australia as a result -- kickstarted a three-goal Saudi turnaround.
In Group A, Iraq battened down the hatches and survived a South Korean onslaught to come away from the Seoul World Cup Stadium with a 0-0 draw, as did Lebanon, also making their first appearance at this stage of World Cup qualification, against the United Arab Emirates at the Zabeel Stadium.
With only the top two sides from the two groups automatically securing a place at Qatar 2022, the margins for qualification in this campaign were already expected to be tight. And if anything, matchday one served to demonstrate that the margins will likely be even more razor-thin.
In such circumstances, keeping a cool head, capitalising on momentum, and rising above the chaos to win the games that you should will be absolutely key; a must-win game over Vietnam or Lebanon at the pointy end of the campaign is a significantly different beast to a must-win fixture against Japan or Iran.
It sounds so painfully obvious but, given the Socceroos' history -- forced to qualify for the 2018 World Cup via an intercontinental playoff -- it's one that bears repeating.
Fortunately for Arnold's side, they held up their bargain against China, giving them a strong foundation to build upon heading to Hanoi.