European Super Cup: Liverpool's potent pointer
IN DEFEATING Bayern Munich to win the UEFA Super Cup here last night, Liverpool served up the sight all England want to see next Saturday: Michael Owen, sharpness and speed, and Emile Heskey darting through to beat Oliver Kahn, the esteemed captain and goalkeeper of Germany.
England will find Germany a far more difficult proposition in a World Cup qualifier than Liverpool found Bayern. Yet strikers thrive on confidence as well as the knowledge that they have scored against certain keepers in the past.
Sven-Goran Eriksson watched on as, following John Arne Riise's opener at his old home, both Owen and then Heskey displayed their finishing ability.
The England coach will also have been pleased to see Steven Gerrard give a solid performance in right midfield and a lively substitute's cameo from Robbie Fowler while, for Bayern, Owen Hargreaves produced some neat touches.
Liverpool had deserved their first-half 2-0 lead, the goals just reward for the excellence of their defence, particularly Sami Hyypia, their midfield graft and the speed of Owen and Heskey in attack. Owen kept racing down the channels, creating chances for himself and others. It was a sight to delight Eriksson as well as the Liverpool contingent.
One right-wing cross from Owen was met by Heskey but diverted for a corner; the next, after 22 minutes, saw the ball arrive at Owen's flying feet via Gerrard after Hargreaves had lost possession. Owen drilled the ball across goal for Riise to supply the finishing touch.
Although the Bayern fans chorused "you only sing when you're winning" and other more Anglo-Saxon chants, their players could find no riposte to Liverpool.
Owen's pace was causing panic in Bayern's defence. Yet when he went through one-on-one with Kahn, the German keeper stood up to the challenge and thwarted the Liverpool striker with a good save; as events early in the second half indicated, Owen suffered no loss of confidence, no sudden feeling of awe in the presence of Kahn.
Before Owen showed he can score against Kahn, another England striker was placing the ball past the player honoured here on Thursday night as European Goalkeeper of the Year. Again Hargreaves lost the ball, his pass being cut out by Dietmar Hamann, who found Heskey down the inside-left channel.
Two defenders stood between Heskey and Kahn; within a second, Heskey's strength and skill had carried him past Robert Kovac and Thomas Linke, who should be in Germany's defence next Saturday, before he clipped the ball in past Kahn. Liverpool's fans, who had spent the day drinking in cafes and diving into the harbour, loved it. They had even learned some of the local lingo; "Liverpool FC - Sans Pareil" read one banner.
They were certainly without equal last night, their supremacy confirmed 13 seconds after the re-start when Owen cut in from the left and slid the ball across Kahn and in. This was Owen at his best: incisive in the break, decisive in the final touch.
Bayern could not remain so supine for so long and reduced the deficit to 3-1 within 15 minutes. Hargreaves's corner from the left was met powerfully by Hasan Salihamidzic, whose close-range header flashed past Sander Westerveld. Hargreaves was rightly congratulated for the quality of his corner but, overall, his was a curate's egg of a contribution in front of Eriksson.
His occasional casualness in distribution was evident, leading to Liverpool's opening goals, but otherwise he won the ball athletically and used it efficiently from his base in deep central midfield. Yet Bayern's president, Franz Beckenbauer, argued that it was "too early for him" to be playing also for Eriksson.
"He has a great talent but give the boy time," urged Beckenbauer. "The Under-21s would be better." England send their polite regrets but the Kaiser will have to be dis- appointed; Hargreaves's name was absent from David Platt's Under-21s yesterday and he will be included in Eriksson's full squad tomorrow.
Nine minutes from time Carsten Jancker made it 3-2 with a meaty header but Liverpool deservedly held on for their fifth trophy in six months.
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