Van Hooijdonk leads charge

Marco Materazzi could have his work cut out against Feyenoord's Pierre van Hooijdonk tonight.

Goals, not trophies, have been the common currency of Pierre van Hooijdonk's career. Supporters of NAC Breda, Celtic FC, Nottingham Forest FC, SBV Vitesse, SL Benfica and Feyenoord can attest to that.

A 'team player'
Forest and Vitesse fans could also tell you about the strike action the Dutch international took in a bid to have things his way at their clubs. So it comes as something of a surprise to hear their counterparts at Feyenoord describe this single-minded centre forward as a 'team player'.

Father figure
Yet as the 32-year-old Van Hooijdonk approaches his footballing dotage, he has become something of a father figure in the dressing-room at the Feijenoord stadium. Alongside club captain Paul Bosvelt, he lends a guiding hand to Bert van Marwijk's young squad.

Top of the scoring charts
On the pitch, too, he is a totem for more than just his metres. Not only does he lead the Eredivisie scoring charts with 23 goals, he has also seen more minutes of league action this season than any other Feyenoord player.

Crucial goals
It is in the UEFA Cup, however, that his influence has been most pronounced. Van Hooijdonk's brilliant free-kick against SC Freiburg - taken from a position so near the byline it could have been a rugby conversion - settled an awkward third-round tie. Two more trademark set-pieces swung the outcome against Rangers FC.

Decisive penalty
In the quarter-final against PSV Eindhoven, Van Hooijdonk scored twice, the second a stoppage-time header, in a 2-2 aggregate draw. He then took responsibility for the Rotterdam side's fifth, decisive penalty in a 5-4 shootout victory. So you could say he likes this competition. And why not. With Feyenoord four points behind leaders AFC Ajax in the league, it is his best chance of adding to the solitary winner's medal he picked up with Celtic in the Scottish Cup.

Materazzi wins acclaim
The man charged with denying him in today's UEFA Cup semi-final second leg is another free-kick specialist, Internazionale FC's Marco Materazzi. Last season, Materazzi won acclaim by registering 12 league goals for AC Perugia from his position in central defence. This time round, he has earned plaudits, as well as a first Italy cap, for his work at the other end of the pitch: the 28-year-old is a mainstay of an Inter side chasing a Serie A and UEFA Cup double.

Córdoba suspended
Yet this evening he will be without his partner, the classy Colombian Ivan Córdoba, who is suspended. And if there is a question mark against Materazzi, it is that he lacks the technique to be comfortable at the highest level. Some Italian journalists have even suggested that Materazzi could be 'found out' without Córdoba's reassuring presence.

Unlikely stop-offs
Perhaps they are being churlish about a player whose career path has included unlikely stop-offs at FC Messina, Trapani Calcio and Carpi AC in Sicily, and at Everton FC's Goodison Park. Tonight he gets his chance to pit his wits against another well-travelled player at the peak of his powers but only one can take the honours.