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Ruthless and prolific

Toni equals record to round off fine start

Bayern’s first four goals against Aris Salonika on Wednesday evening all resulted from blunders by visiting keeper Konstantinos Chalkias, but the fact the goals came about in the same manner was not sheer chance. “During the warm up, we remarked on how the ball was coming very fast off the slippery surface. We knew it would be hard for the keepers,“ revealed Christian Lell. Luca Toni patently took the message to heart, converting all four strikes from close range after Chalkias’ repeated howlers.

“He has a sixth sense telling him where the ball’s going to end up. He’s always there where the action is,“ Uli Hoeneß smiled after the Italian carved himself a place in the club annals. In a 4-1 victory over Benfica twelve years ago, Jürgen Klinsmann became the only previous Bayern man to score four goals in a single UEFA Cup match, a feat now matched by Toni. The 30-year-old fell only one strike short of Gerd Müller’s all-time record in continental competition, a five-goal blast on 24 October 1972 in a 9-0 thrashing of Omonia Nicosia in the European Champions Cup.

Glittering first six months

“I haven’t scored four goals in a game since I was a kid,” a disbelieving Toni grinned afterwards. “It’s the perfect way to end the year.“ The Italian World Cup winner’s gala display against the outclassed Greeks fittingly crowned a sparkling first six months in Munich.

Toni has a remarkable 21 scorer points in 21 competitive appearances, comprising 17 goals and four assists. “He’s ruthless in front of goal, and always takes two or three defenders out of the game,“ Ottmar Hitzfeld commented approvingly. Toni is the leading scorer at the club, but not everything has gone according to plan in his first half year. A knee injury interrupted his pre-season, and he struggled for weeks with a tight hamstring. Nevertheless, his first ten competitive appearances produced no fewer than ten goals.

Not fit, but successful

“Whenever I say I’m 100 percent fit, I fail to score,“ Toni joshed ahead of the Aris clash, although a grain of truth appears to underpin the obtuse theory. The Italian declared himself fully fit in late October, and the goals promptly dried up. The hamstring problem reared its head again in December, but Toni needed just a couple of sessions back in training before netting four on Wednesday.

“He’s come back with a bang. He makes an impression even when he’s not 100 percent fit,“ Hoeneß remarked. “We’ve seen his value to the club this evening.” Toni will hopefully now follow the example set by Klinsmann. The four goals against Benfica 12 years ago were just one dimension to an outstanding season for the former Bayern striker, who went on to score a record 15 times in the club’s UEFA Cup run – a campaign which ended with Bayern lifting the trophy.