Munich - Not for the first time in a long and distinguished career, Claudio Pizarro took centre stage on Wednesday evening with a first-half hat-trick in FC Bayern Munich's 6-1 demolition of LOSC Lille in the UEFA Champions League.

It was yet another personal milestone for the Bundesliga’s record foreign goalscorer and a timely reminder to those who had been anticipating a somewhat peripheral role for him at Bayern this season.

'A different kind of joy'


Pizarro's typically predatory treble was his first for the Munich outfit since he bagged three in a 7-0 DFB Cup thrashing of SC Freiburg in March 2005, during his first stint with the club he rejoined from Bremen over the summer. More impressively, it was also his first hat-trick in the Champions League, achieved in his 66th appearance in the competition - and one that he duly savoured. “It was a different kind of joy [after scoring the third goal],” the 34-year old Peruvian international revealed after the match. “As a striker, scoring goals gives me huge confidence.”

Lille had gone into the game without a single point in the competition and were, admittedly, not the strongest of opposition for the Reds. Yet when pressed on the matter of whether their poor display was a decisive factor in Bayern's handsome win, he unhesitatingly responded, “No. We played extremely well and put them under pressure right from the off.”

Qualification nearer


Bayern, indeed, gave their guests no time to settle, storming into a four-goal lead within the first 33 minutes and going in 5-0 up at the interval. The eventual 6-1 victory now leaves them in a great position to qualify from Group F, most probably requiring just one more win from their two remaining games, at home to BATE Borisov and away to Valencia. “We took a huge step towards reaching the knockout stage tonight,” said Pizarro. “We knew how important the game would be and we’re all very satisfied with how it turned out.”

The veteran goalgetter had been given his chance to lead the line following the late withdrawal of Mario Mandzukic with an infection, and his outstanding performance has now given head coach Jupp Heynckes something of a selection dilemma. Mandzukic has excelled since arriving in Munich in the summer and is the Bundesliga’s joint-top scorer, having found the net eight times this season. Pizarro, however, a goalscoring institution in the German top flight with an incredible 160 strikes, has demonstrated once again how much he still has to offer the team.

Wealth of options


With both men in such good form, it is easy to forget that Mario Gomez, who scored 41 goals in all competitions for the club last season, has not even played this season after sustaining an ankle injury pre-season. When he eventually returns to action, Pizarro is expected to fall to third place in the pecking order. Yet he himself challenged that view openly, confidently asking, “Who says I’m number three?”

Regardless of who gets the nod up front in future - or whether Heynckes instead opts for a policy of rotation - to have three strikers who combine the quality and scoring prowess of Pizarro, Mandzukic and Gomez is indeed a luxury for the German record title-holders.


Bernie Reeves