South China 1-3 Liverpool: Voronin shines
Liverpool set up a Asia Trophy final clash with Portsmouth after seeing off a spirited South China outfit 3-1.
A side with skipper Steven Gerrard and summer signings Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel were given a testing examination as goals from John Arne Riise, Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger finally saw off the hosts at Hong Kong Stadium.
Riise opened the scoring after nine minutes with a trademark blistering free-kick from the edge of the area that left keeper Zhang Chunhui with little chance as it arrowed its way into the top corner.
Harry Kewell's ball into the box caused panic in the South China defence shortly afterwards and the ball broke to Andriy Voronin but the Ukraine striker could not apply the finish.
Jose Luis' side then nearly grabbed an equaliser as first an inswinging corner was cleared almost off the line before the Liverpool defence misjudged a deep cross but Bai Hei spooned his shot wide when well placed.
The home side fell further behind after 26 minutes when Alonso's cute through ball split the South China defence and Voronin was bundled over in the box. Alonso slotted home the spot kick low to Zhang's left.
However, South China halved the deficit just after the half hour mark when, after Mohammed Sissoko had been penalised for a foul near the right touchline, skipper Li Haiqiang curled a brilliant effort into the top corner of Scott Carson's net from 30 yards.
Alonso went close with a couple of long-range drives before the interval, the first from a Peter Crouch lay-off after persistent work from Voronin and the second when the ball fell to him after Crouch's surging run was stopped in its tracks as the Reds maintained their advantage.
The second half opened in low-key fashion but Dirk Kuyt, who had replaced Crouch, fired over when Alvaro Arbeola's low cross picked the Dutchman out on the far side of the area.
Voronin went close after 70 minutes when the striker rose to meet Kuyt's cross from the left but just could not keep his header down as it went narrowly over the bar.
A third was not long in coming though as Agger rounded off a beautifully worked goal after 72 minutes.
It was the centre-back who started it as he intercepted a pass and rode a couple of challenges before feeding Riise on the left. The Norwegian's cross picked out Kuyt and he teed up Agger to drive the ball home from inside the box.
Zhang then produced two good stops in the space of two minutes as he first parried Kuyt's strong effort before denying Jermaine Pennant at the far post.
Liverpool should have scored a fourth two minutes from time but Voronin could only get minimal contact on Pennant's teasing cross and Kuyt somehow could not turn it in at the far post.
Rafael Benitez praised the growing contribution of new signing Andriy Voronin to Liverpool's pre-season programme after his telling contribution to today's 3-1 Barclays Asia Trophy win over South China in Hong Kong.
The Ukraine international, a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen this summer, completed his first full 90 minutes for his new club in front of 36,000 fans.
He won a penalty, put away by Xabi Alonso, and produced a work rate in intense heat that impressed manager Benitez, who witnessed further goals from Daniel Agger and John Arne Riise.
Benitez said on Sky Sports 1: 'Voronin has started well for us. He has `game', intelligence and he has fitted well into the side.
'It is early for him, but we knew he was a very good player and, when you have better players around, normally you play better.'
Benitez also accepted second-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson could have done better with the first-half goal he conceded from fully 40 yards, while maintaining a `wait and see' stance in the saga over the possible signing of Manchester United full-back Gabriel Heinze.
Benitez added: 'Their goal was strange, Scott Carson was not expecting it, a shot from so far out that hard. It was a surprise, and I am sure he will be disappointed with that.
'As a keeper, when you concede any goal you are disappointed, but particularly when it is that kind of goal.
'I am sure he will bounce back from that, it is just one mistake, nothing important.'
On the Heinze situation, with Liverpool having had a £5.8million offer rejected by United, Benitez said: 'We sent in an offer for Heinze, and they rejected it. Now the lawyers have to talk. The agent has called in the lawyers, everybody knows the situation now all around the world.'
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has been critical of the part played in the proposed deal by Heinze's agent, with the player and Liverpool claiming a letter exists stating the defender can leave Old Trafford if anyone makes a £5.8million bid.
United do not want to sell to their biggest local rivals, and Benitez said: 'I would rather now wait and see what happens next.'
Liverpool play Portsmouth in the final on Friday, the Hampshire club having won their match 1-0 against Fulham.