Northern Ireland stormed into the Elite final of the 2010 Milk Cup last night after a resounding 5-0 win over China at the Riada Stadium, Ballymoney.
Steve Beaglehole’s boys now face the USA in Friday night’s decider at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Northern Ireland went into the game knowing they had to win to stand any chance of making their third final and had the game all but wrapped up by half time as they knocked in three goals inside six minutes.
A brace from James Gray, including a penalty, was added to by William Gregg before the break.
Jonny Gorman and Shane Ferguson also found the net in the second period
Northern started the game in a positive fashion and dominated the play from the outset.
They went close on a number of occasions, none more so than when Gray clipped the top of the bar with a dipping effort.
The breakthrough finally arrived 11 minutes before the break when Gregg was brought down inside the box by a clumsy challenge from defender Ma Chongchong.
Gray immediately stepped up to score from the spot and calm any nerves that may have lingered for the home side.
Four minutes later and the lead was doubled when a long ball found Grigg on the edge of the box. The Middlesbrough forward showed great control and unleashed a right foot volley into top corner.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Chinese and a moment of madness in their back four saw Northern Ireland race in front by three clear goals.
A backpass by Chongchong was inadvertently lifted by goalkeeper Don Jianhong inside the box.
The freekick, from eight yards out, was taken by Gorman, who knocked it square for Gray to have a shot on goal.
His original shot was blocked but arrived back into Gray’s path
as he returned a looping header over the goalkeeper and into the net for a 3-0 lead at the break.
Twelve minutes into the second half and it was four after yet another mistake from China.
Dean Jarvis produced a cross from the left which caused goalkeeper Jianhong to hesitate leaving senior international Gorman with a simple finish to tap in at the back post, unchallenged.
The fifth arrived on 73 minutes when Northern Ireland began to turn on the style.
Gorman was brought down on the edge of the box, just left of centre, allowing Ferguson to step up and brilliantly curl the ball, left footed, low around the wall and just inside the post.
Elsewhere in the Elite section, there was late drama at the Coleraine Showgrounds where the USA struck late to take their place in the final and win the group.
Denmark thought they had
earned their place in the final as they fought back to draw the scores at 2-2, but Adrian Reulas struck even later to find the winner with just three minutes left on the clock.
That final strike from the US not only toppled Denmark from the top of the group, but relegat
ed them to fourth place and into a play-off with Mexico on Friday lunchtime in Ballymoney.
Mexico finished with four points and behind Northern Ireland on goal difference as they beat Japan 3-1 in Ballymena.
Japan will face China at 11am on Friday in Ballymoney.