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Young lions make their mark

Published: Tuesday 30 April 2002, 9.44CET
A number of Europe's most prolific strikers have been held at bay in the BayArena by Lucio this season.

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Published: Tuesday 30 April 2002, 9.44CET

Young lions make their mark

A number of Europe's most prolific strikers have been held at bay in the BayArena by Lucio this season.

A number of the world's most prolific strikers have already been held at bay at the BayArena in the Champions League this term, yet tonight in the semi-final second leg Bayer 04 Leverkusen will face arguably this season's most fearsome forward.

Make his mark
Lucio, 23, has been a rock at the heart of the home defence in the competition so far, having shackled the likes of David Trezeguet, Alessandro del Piero, Michael Owen, Diego Tristán, Rivaldo, Thierry Henry and Patrick Kluivert in Germany, while Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooij has already equalled the Champions League record of ten goals in a single campaign, held jointly by Del Piero (97/98), Mario Jardel (99/00), Rivaldo (99/00) and Raul (99/00). Tonight the Dutchman will want to set his own mark.

Players' player
Like his hero, Marco van Basten, Van Nistelrooij is proving himself to be the complete striker, single-minded yet unselfish, hitting more shots (26) than any other player in this season's competition but also sharing the lead for the number of assists with five. On the domestic front in the FA Premiership, he was also recently acknowledged by his peers, being named the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year, a distinction he won twice in the Eredivisie.

'Mental strength'
All this after missing last season with a serious injury. Having scored 57 goals in just 67 league games for PSV Eindhoven, a now infamous €30m transfer to United fell through after he failed his medical and when his knee gave way in training a few days later some questioned whether he would ever recover. It is a testament to the 25-year-old that not only has he recovered from the injury, he has come back stronger. "The injury gave me a mental strength I didn't have before," he claimed recently.

Lucio the libero
Yet tonight he comes up against a giant defender who is proving himself to be one of the finest around Europe at the moment. Lucio is a ball-playing centre-back, a libero who will join the attack if the opportunity comes his way. And he is more than able when the chance arrives, as he showed against Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals, when he sealed Leverkusen's progress with the key fourth goal.

Summer target
Signed by previous coach Berti Vogts from Porto Alegre for €8.9m, the transfer to Germany has seen his career move from strength to strength. He made his international debut in November 2001 and now looks certain for a place in Brazil's squad for this summer's FIFA World Cup. Indeed, there will be no shortage of high-profile clubs looking for the player's signature over the summer.

Piece of history
In the first leg at Old Trafford, Lucio kept Van Nistelrooij particularly quiet – a rare feat indeed - and if he can do that again at the BayArenA, he will surely lead his team through to an unlikely Champions League final. No Brazilian has ever scored in the final, and after his two goals in this season's campaign he could make another piece of history in Glasgow come 15 May.

Last updated: 30/04/02 21.48CET

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