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Hyypiä and Lucio meet head on

Published: Tuesday 9 April 2002, 18.00CET
The battle between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Liverpool FC may well be won in defence.
Published: Tuesday 9 April 2002, 18.00CET

Hyypiä and Lucio meet head on

The battle between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Liverpool FC may well be won in defence.

It was a case of anything a Liverpool FC defender can do a Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender can do just as well, judging by Lucio's performance at the weekend. After Sami Hyypiä's match-winning goal for the English club in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final last week, his opposite number more than matched it with a stunning goal for Leverkusen against local rivals 1. FC Köln on Saturday.

Wonder strike
Collecting the ball inside his own half, the leggy Brazilian strode past four opponents during a 60-metre run which ended with him placing a shot through the legs of the opposing goalkeeper and putting the match beyond the reach of Köln. For sheer athleticism it certainly beat Hyypiä's goal from all of a metre at Anfield a few days earlier, but whether it proves as important remains to be seen.

Defensive determination
Tonight at the BayArena it is likely to be more about both players' defensive qualities than their occasional penchant for attack and in this respect both are as crucial to their respective sides as the most prolific goalscorer. It is likely that Hyypiä's credentials in this respect will be the more severely examined in this second leg, but Lucio provided enough evidence in the first leg to explain why Real Madrid CF are reportedly considering the player as a possible successor to their great defender, Fernando Hierro.

Attacking ability
In common with many Brazilian defenders, there is a Pelé bursting to get out and while some of Lucio's sorties can present problems for his team, there is no doubt that when he breaks intelligently - with cover behind him - his incursions into the other half of the field can create real problems for the opposition, as was witnessed once or twice at Anfield.

Physical presence
But purely from a defensive point of view, Lucio is worth his place in the Leverkusen side. There are not many defenders who can stand up to the physical presence of Emile Heskey but Lucio, a very mature-looking 23-year-old, managed it and the two men had a battle royal on Merseyside which looks set to continue tonight.

Perfect partnership
Hyypiä's qualities are more of a traditional type, though he, too, is capable of bringing the ball out of defence. The Finn is also an excellent passer and an equally resolute tackler. While Lucio has formed a fine partnership with Jens Nowotny it does not quite bear comparison with the understanding which Hyypiä and Stéphane Henchoz have developed in the last couple of years. Indeed it is the bedrock of this Liverpool side.

'Shared vision'
At 28, Hyypiä is also a player in his prime and it is testimony to his character that Gérard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, had no hesitation in making him his captain. After the game at Anfield, the Frenchman spoke of the "shared vision" the club and the Finn had of him becoming the first foreign Liverpool captain to lift either the UEFA Champions League trophy or the FA Premiership crown. Whether or not he is able to still visualise the first of those dreams by the end of tonight's match may depend as much on how Lucio plays as he does.

Last updated: 09/04/02 21.11CET

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