Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez was left frustrated on Tuesday after red tape and an injury to Steven Gerrard forced him to field a makeshift side in an unimpressive 3-1 win over South China.
New strikers Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel were both refused international clearance for the Asia Trophy match while England star Gerrard was ruled out with an unspecified injury.
"After that we had to put (central defenders) Sami Hyppia and Daniel Agger as midfielders, we just had to manage," said Benitez.
"It was a pity but I hope it will be okay on Friday. The game was too close because the other team worked very hard."
Liverpool went 2-0 up from a John Arne Riise free-kick and a Xabi Alonso penalty but were made to work for their win after South China's Li Haiqiang crashed home a spectacular effort from 40 yards.
Agger eventually put paid to the Hong Kong FA Cup-holders' growing hopes on 74 minutes, setting up a final against Portsmouth who beat Fulham 1-0.
Benitez was hopeful of fielding a full-strength team on Friday, saying Gerrard's injury was "not serious" and Torres and Babel should both get permission to play.
Despite the gulf in class, Liverpool needed a set-piece to open the scoring and it was Riise who obliged with a trademark left-foot thunderbolt on 10 minutes.
The Norwegian crashed his shot from a central position past the wall and into the top right-hand corner with goalkeeper Zhang Chunhui doing better to stay out of the way.
Pony-tailed Ukrainian Andriy Voronin could have made it two on 14 minutes but his hard work paid off near the half-hour mark when he was up-ended in the box.
Alonso calmly stepped up to slot Liverpool's second from the spot, beating Zhang to his left.
But South China were far from done and Li provided the highpoint of the night with his sensational effort on 34 minutes.
The captain looked set to cross but instead embarrassed Liverpool 'keeper Scott Carson with a magnificent curling effort which crept in to the top left, bringing the near-capacity crowd to their feet.
Benitez introduced Jermaine Pennant and Dirk Kuyt shortly after half-time and the Dutch striker had a hand in Liverpool's third, touching off Riise's cross to Agger who finished accurately.
Kuyt missed an open goal in the dying minutes, summing up an indifferent performance from Liverpool, who will hope for better in the final.