Despite an appalling playing surface due to incessant rain, Edin Dzeko headed home James Milner’s superb cross on 21 minutes to settle the second Barclays Asia Trophy semi-final and the Blues will now face Sunderland in Saturday’s final.
There was an impressive second-half cameo from Alvaro Negredo, too, with the Spain international almost scoring with a spectacular scissor kick before playing an excellent ball through to Dzeko during an impressive 25 minutes.
The former Sevilla man looks made for the Premier League with his pace and power adding a new dimension to the Blues attack.
One thing City will have learned from this trip is that when it rains in Hong Kong, it pours!
The heavens opened over the Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday afternoon and continued for the next 24 hours. For a time, the match looked in serious doubt.
The first game of the Barclays Asia Trophy between Tottenham and Sunderland was delayed by an hour, but the downpour continued throughout their 80-minute match as the conditions bordered on farcical. A 3-1 win for the Black Cats meant the winners of City and South China would face Paolo Di Canio’s side on Saturday.
With a live global audience of millions, sponsorship requirements, the pre-season plans of three top Premier League clubs and an expectant (and sodden) sell-out crowd of 40,000, it was always going to be huge call to postpone both games with the only option to play the matches 24 hours later.
Thankfully, the ground-staff did a grand job and the games went ahead.
For Manuel Pellegrini, this game was a chance to see how well his philosophy was being absorbed by the squad, not to mention the first opportunity to see Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Negredo in action this summer.
Jesus Navas, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic were absent as they continue their build-up towards match fitness. Other than that, the City boss had more options than previously for the games against SuperSport and AmaZulu in South Africa.
Though the majority of the South China side won’t be particularly well known to City fans outside of Asia, former City Academy player Sean Tse, released by the Blues last year, was at least one recognisable name in their starting line-up.
The rain had stopped by the time the Blues – wearing the new 2013/14 Nike away kit for the first time – began and the pitch had lost most of its surface water, too. Set against the spectacular Hong Kong skyline and backed by an enthusiastic capacity crowd, this was a lively encounter from start to finish.
The first chance of any real note fell to Dzeko on 17 minutes, but the Bosnian just failed to connect with Milner’s clever low cross. Then Milner found Yaya Toure 60 seconds later but his effort was beaten out by keeper Zhang Chunhui.
With Milner in electric form throughout, it was no surprise that when City’s pressure finally paid off, the Blues’ No.7 was at the heart of the move that created it
...City v South China...
The England midfielder picked up the ball outside of the box, cleverly skipped inside one challenge before delivering the perfect cross that Dzeko couldn’t miss from four yards with his downward header giving Zhang no chance.
But if the Blues had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first period, South China upped the ante after the break and each time the threat came from the left flank where Brazilian sub Dhiego Martins provided several clever low crosses that City just about scrambled clear each time.
Negredo came on for Toure just before the hour-mark and showed a glimpse of what is to come with an acrobatic volley that wasn’t too far over and he then played a superb ball through to Dzeko that Zhang did well to push over.
The game, like the pitch, deteriorated in the closing stages but there were plenty of positives for the Blues to take from this encounter, particularly the performance of man-of-the-match Milner.