Li lights up night with blockbuster

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2007, 12:00am

Below-strength Liverpool emerge victorious despite South China ace's long-range strike

Hong Kong Footballer of the Year Li Haiqiang scored a fantastic long-range goal, the highlight of the first night of action in the Barclays Asia Trophy, but his effort was not enough to stop an under-strength Liverpool from winning their match with South China.

Many of the huge 37,000 crowd (just 3,000 shy of capacity) at Hong Kong Stadium were decked in the famous red of the Anfield club and they must have been disappointed at the absence of several star names - most notably Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel - from the Premier League side's line-up, despite seeing their favourite side win 3-1 against the Hong Kong club.

They were not alone in that feeling as Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez was frustrated to be denied the players' services through a combination of injury (Gerrard) and red tape.

Benitez became a bit annoyed when asked whether he should apologise to the fans for the weakened team.

'I hope the trio can play on Friday,' he said. 'Gerrard has got a minor injury, but it is not serious and should be ready for the next match, while Torres and Babel did not play because they need their international clearances,' said the Liverpool coach, meaning their international papers have not been received from their previous clubs, Atletico Madrid and Ajax respectively.

But Benitez said he's optimistic of fielding a full-strength team on Friday when the Reds face Portsmouth in the final. Pompey beat Fulham 1-0 in last night's opening match.

Despite the slight negativity caused by the Liverpool absentees, South China skipper Li gave reason for everyone to cheer with his moment of magic that lit up the night. Li, who was instrumental in South China's treble-winning season, curled in a brilliant free kick from 30 metres out in the 35th minute to reduce the arrears to 2-1.

'These kind of goals always involve a little bit of luck and tonight's one was no exception,' said Li. 'I would give it a perfect 10 points because it was against a top Premier League side.'

The 30-year-old midfielder was delighted with the team's performance, especially after watching the previous night's match between Manchester United and Chinese Super League side Shenzhen Xiangxue.

'We did not give them too much respect and pressured them hard. But still it was a great experience to play against one of the top English sides and every player has benefited.'

South China were already two goals down before Li's tremendous effort. John Arne Riise opened the scoring in the 10th minute when he struck home a powerful free kick from just outside the box, and Xabi Alonso added to the tally with a penalty in the 22nd minute.

Daniel Agger sealed the victory for the visitors when he slotted home in the 74th minute after some good passing involving three Liverpool players on the right.

Benitez was not satisfied with the display. 'We were controlling the match well to lead by two goals, but once we conceded we were a bit under pressure. It needed the third goal to settle the match.'