Analysis: Why 'happy' China can hurt the Socceroos

China have already done something at this tournament that they haven't done for over a decade and made dozens of writers and sub-editors around the world abandon any hope of using 'China Crisis' headlines. Any music reference is now more likely to be 'ZZ Top' thanks to inspirational captain Zheng Zhi.

Zheng is the skipper and so much more. It is no surprise that concerned Chinese journalists were asking coach Alain Perrin whether it was a coincidence that with the midfielder leaving the pitch in the 2-1 win over North Korea on Sunday, that the team's control went with him.

Yet, this is a happy China. 

After the anguish of two first-round eliminations in 2007 and 2011 and the well-documented failure to even get close to qualifying for any World Cup since that sole appearance back in 2002, there is a spring in the step of the army of scribes following the team around Australia. 

No press pack has as many cigarette packs as this one but, at the moment, at least, there are smiles amid the smoke - unfamiliar expressions for people like myself who have only seen these journalists grimace and curse over the years.

Nobody expected nine points from the first three games. It is a far cry from qualification when China limped into the Asian Cup as the worst performer. The final game, a depressing defeat against Iraq, was Perrin's first.

This team is different both in terms of personnel and especially confidence, belief and spirit. Anyone who has watched China over the years knows that when expectations are high, performances tend to head in the opposite direction. It stands to reasons then that in the opposite situation, China gets points on the board.

There's more to it than that though. There is a new spirit in the team that means setbacks do not cause always lead to disasters. 

Despite falling behind to Uzbekistan, Perrin's men did not panic and came back to take the lead and then defended it with a rarely seen resoluteness. 

This came after a very well-organised performance nullified Saudi Arabia's attacking threat in the opening game win and while the team hung on a little against North Korea, it was the kind of test that should stand the team in good stead for the approaching big game against the Socceroos.

Perrin has introduced a new level of flexibility, switching from 4-2-3-1 against Saudi Arabia to three centre-backs against Uzbekistan with the wing-backs helping to deal with the wide threat from the Central Asians' dangerous full-backs but also getting forward at every opportunity.

At times in the past, a little erratic, Wang Dalei has been one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament, saving penalties, points and making plenty of friends. 

In defence, Zhang Linpeng and Ren Hang have stood tall when necessary. Sun Ke has been energetic in attack, popping up all over the place, with three goals so far, Hao Junmin looks like a player reborn and Wu Lei's runs make space for others. 

Veteran striker Gao Lin, not yet 30 but has been around for ever, has been working his socks off.

Given the opportunity, China is happy to bring the ball out from defence and opponents so far have perhaps not have attacked the ball as much as they should. Zheng Zhi, the former English Premier League star, can drop back to take possession, offering himself as an outlet and providing a calming influence on his team-mates.

Under Marcello Lippi, Zheng, derided after the 2008 Beijing Olympics debacle, has become a mature and intelligent midfielder and Perrin and China are reaping the rewards. 

Giving the skipper as little time as possible on the ball is a good idea.

Everyone in the camp has been playing down chances against Australia and while this is partly down to an acknowledgment that the host is strong favorite but there is also a belief that China can at first frustrate the Socceroos and then, sooner or later, cause problems.

While this is obviously by far Perrin's biggest test so far, he has one major advantage over opposite number Ange Postecoglou: the 2015 Asian Cup has already been a success. 

There is no pressure and no expectations and this is when China can be dangerous.

The Socceroos will face China PR in the Quarter-Finals of the AFC Asian Cup at Brisbane Stadium on Thursday 22 January (8.30pm local kick off). Click here to purchase tickets.