Manchester City reached the Asia Trophy final with a routine 1-0 win over South China on Wednesday.
Edin Dzeko scored the only goal, taking advantage of one of just a number of industrious runs down the right flank from man-of-the-match James Milner, with Alvaro Negredo coming close twice after making his debut in the second half.
Manuel Pellegrini chose a strong line-up for the Asia Trophy semi-final, with the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure all starting but, despite their experience, the Premier League giants struggled to assert themselves on a well-worn pitch.
Samir Nasri and Milner were afforded much space down the flank, with City lining up in a 4-5-1 formation, but they initially struggled to carve open any opportunities duo to the condition of the playing surface.
An industrious yet frustrating performance from Pellegrini’s charges did not start to bear fruit until the 13th minute when Dzeko skipped past Jack Sealy to arrowed a right-footed shot from 30 yards into the hands of Zhang Chunhui.
Milner came into his own soon after and started to dictate play down to right flank, first finding Toure inside the penalty area to force the goalkeeper into a smart save, before similar fine work saw Dzeko picked out 10 yards from goal to break the deadlock.
City continued to plunder either flank and could, and perhaps should, have extended their lead when Nasri spotted Toure’s darting run through the centre but South China’s high line, and the Ivorian’s eagerness, saw the referee call the play back for offside.
Toure, though, nearly made amends inside two minutes of the restart with a signature charge through the defence, but his angled shot towards the far corner fizzed past the post.
Negredo was introduced for his debut with 25 minutes remaining and was almost immediately handed the opportunity to open his City account thanks to more smart movement from Milner, only for fellow substitute Dhiego Martins to hack the danger away.
The former Sevilla man was lively, and soon linked up with Nasri to attempt an acrobatic scissor kick inside the penalty area, but he could not keep his shot down and it sailed over the bar.
Minutes later, Negredo nearly turned provider as a fine outside-of-the-boot pass into the path of Dzeko left the striker with just Zhang to beat, but the goalkeeper stood stall and produced another impressive save.
The final 10 minutes saw very little urgency from the Premier League team, bar the impressive Milner, with City knowing they did done enough to reach the final against Sunderland on Saturday despite the narrow scoreline.