Five groups of four teams will play home and away ties, with the top two in each group going into the fourth round.
In Group 1 China face Asian Cup Champions Iraq in their opening fixture in Dubai with Vladimir Petrovic, China's Serbian coach, under pressure to improve his underperforming team.
In the job for just five months, China's demanding fans have been disapproving of with a one recent poll showing only four per cent expect China to qualify for the finals in South Africa in 2010.
This may not only be due to China's poor showings since qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, as the 'sleeping giants of Asian football' are also pitted against Germany 2006 quarter-finalists Australia, and the improving Qatar in the 'group of death'.
Iraq's 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign begins
Following a dismal 4-0 loss to German Bundesliga side SV Hamburg last month, Petrovic changed the look of the team by axing some long-standing players and China responded with a goalless draw in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates.
While recent results have not gone his way, the Serb, who was appointed after Zhu Guanghu was fired for failing to take China beyond the first round of the Asian Cup last year, said he was confident they will be in South Africa.
"I wouldn't have accepted the job if I wasn't confident of guiding the team to South Africa 2010," Petrovic said in a recent interview with Fifa.com.
"I think China are more than capable of playing against any other Asian sides if they work hard in terms of the details."
Important year for Zheng
|"I wouldn't have accepted the job if I wasn't confident of guiding the team to South Africa 2010."|
Zheng Zhi, Charlton Athletic midfielder, and Dong Fangzhuo, Manchester United striker, will be vital to the team's success.
"The year to come will be important for China's football," Zheng, who has been on fire in the English Championship, said.
"I hope I will be able to play well to help the team achieve our goals." Meanwhile Iraq, coming off the back of their Asian Cup success, will be looking to qualify for their first World Cup finals since Mexico 1986.
Egil Olsen, Iraq's new Norwegian coach, has named 15 players in his squad from the team that won the Asian Cup last year, including talismanic captain Younis Mahmoud, with recalls for strikers Emad Mohammed and Ala'a Abdulzahra.
Also playing will be creative midfielder Nashat Akram, who was recently refused a work permit to play for Sven-Goran Eriksson's Manchester City in the English Premier League.
In the other Group 1 tie Australia host Qatar in Melbourne.