Michael Owen almost certainly sent Liverpool back into the competition they used to dominate with a fine hat-trick which proved too much for hapless Haka in Helsinki last night.
It is 16 years since Liverpool figured in the European Cup, but Owen grabbed a quality treble to bring those painful years to a close. There is no way back now for an outclassed Haka side, who will surely be put to the sword again in a fortnight in the second leg of this third qualifying round tie.
"Whatever the opposition, to score three times away from home in Europe is outstanding," the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, said of Owen's hat-trick. "Michael's three goals were tremendous."
Owen's England team-mate, Emile Heskey, scored one himself early on to settle the nerves, and from then on there was only going to be one winner, with Sami Hyypia also getting in on the scoring act in front of his Finnish countrymen.
Haka's objectives were clear from the start. They were organised, and rarely prepared to venture out of their own half. That, coupled with a rigid offside trap, meant it started as a frustrating night for Liverpool until the 32nd minute, when Owen dropped deep to feed Stéphane Henchoz, whose ball down the right was controlled by Steven Gerrard then whipped in for Heskey to power home the header.
Liverpool had to wait until the 56th minute for their second goal. Gerrard's fierce tackle saw the other Finn in a Liverpool jersey, Jari Litmanen, whose vision and instant passing were having a major influence on proceedings, pick up a loose ball some 20 yards inside his own half, with both Heskey and Owen bursting forward. Litmanen's delightful ball gave Owen an easy finish.
That was the Finn's last involvement as he was replaced by Gary McAllister two minutes later, and in the 66th minute Liverpool scored again. Patrik Berger's clever ball over the defence sent Owen scurrying away and he flicked the ball past the advancing goalkeeper Andras Vilnrotter before walking it into the net.
It was fitting that the captain, Hyypia, should get the fourth, hooking home from 10 yards after Owen had mishit a shot inside the area. There was still time for Owen to grab his hat-trick, the England striker driving home with three minutes left when a Berger pass deflected to him in acres of space.
Haka: Vilnrotter, Karjalainen (Ivanov, 83), Makela (Pasanen, 72), Aalto, Vaisanen, Popovitch (Ruhanen, 71), Torkelli, Kovacs, Wilson, Okkonen, Kangaskorpi. Substitutes not used: Toivonen (gk), Bajic, Koivuranta, Pogioli.
Liverpool: Arphexad, Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher, Berger, Hamann, Gerrard (Murphy, 66), Litmanen (McAllister, 59), Owen, Heskey (Fowler, 72). Substitutes not used: Nielsen (gk), Riise, Barmby, Traoré.
Referee: A Ibañez (Spain).Reuse content