Keeping Roy Makaay off the scoresheet is a rarity these days. Before FC Bayern München's UEFA Champions League victory against SK Rapid Wien, the Dutch international had scored 19 goals in the previous eleven games for his club.
At the Ernst Happel Stadion, though, Makaay met his match. The striker fought a thrilling duel with Rapid goalkeeper Helge Payer and for once came off second best. On his Champions League debut, the young Austrian international proved again why so many in Vienna expect him to be playing on a bigger stage before long.
Payer dove to grasp a curling Makaay shot then blocked superbly with his legs from Claudio Pizarro. When Bayern did score it could not have been harder on Payer. He arched his back acrobatically to claw out Makaay’s point-blank header only for the ball to fall to José Paolo Guerrero. The Peruvian missed his kick but the ball struck his leg and trickled in.
Guerrero described the goal as "comical", but it was no joke for Payer, whose saves might still have earned Rapid a point had Jozef Valachovic not missed a late penalty. "We played well and I did too, but the result is hard for us," Payer told uefa.com. "I was satisfied with my performance but it doesn't mean much because of the result."
Rapid's show of strength ensures they will not be overawed by Juventus FC on Tuesday. "Our performance against Bayern has given us confidence," Payer said. "We know we're in with a chance. Juventus are in excellent form and we're definitely the outsiders. We'll do everything to pull off an upset."
Payer cites former Bayern goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff as his idol, but admits he has plenty to learn from the German champion’s current No1, Oliver Kahn. "Kahn is one of the best goalkeepers around so it was an honour to play against him," he said. "I rate Gianluigi Buffon as the best goalkeeper in the world. You can learn things from every good goalkeeper but it is a mistake to try to copy another goalkeeper."
Job description aside, Payer has little in common with Kahn. Whereas Germany's No1 is loud and demanding, Payer is calm and reserved. What they both share, however, is a driving ambition. "I always dreamed of playing for Rapid when I was a boy because it is the biggest club in Austria," he said. "I have already fulfilled that dream. Apart from that I would say FC Barcelona. I want to be the second Austrian after Hans Krankl to play for them."
A few more performances like the one he put in against Bayern and that might not seem so fanciful. Payer came to Rapid from hometown club Eintracht Wels as an 11-year-old. He progressed through the youth system before spending one year on loan at ASK Kottingbrunn in 2000/01. Lothar Matthäus threatened to bring in a more experienced keeper in 2001/02, but Payer outlasted the German coach and made the position his own, passing 100 league appearances four days after making his Champions League debut.
Payer has also seen off his rivals on the international front. He made his full international debut in June 2003 and then eventually replaced Alex Manninger as Austria’s No1 for the pair of FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Wales in March this year. Austria won both matches without conceding a goal. Now though, it is Rapid making the most of his talent. Having held Makaay at bay, do not be surprised if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is left frustrated on Tuesday.
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