We spoke to Sami about the 1-0 home win for the Reds against Bayer 04 on 3 April 2002, about his winning goal, the unique atmosphere at Anfield and his impression of the opponents from Leverkusen back then.
Sami, whenever you ask Bayer 04 fans, who were at Anfield back then, about their memories of the game then they are mostly enthusiastic about the atmosphere. "You'll never walk alone" sung by almost 44,000 spectators was a highlight for many before the kick-off. As a player, was it special hearing that song every time you played?
Hyypiä: Yes, it was fantastic. But when I played there, we didn't hear that much of it because we are still making our final preparations in the dressing room when the song was sung before the match. These days teams are mostly on the pitch when it’s sung. Whenever I go to Liverpool games I always get the goose bumps when I hear that special song from the fans. No wonder when you've played for Liverpool for ten years. It was a great time. And "You'll never walk alone" is a big part of the history of the club.
The 90 minutes in the quarter-final first leg against Leverkusen were hardly spectacular. The Werkself made life difficult for you up to the 44th minute when a tall blond player scored for Liverpool almost out of the blue...
Hyypiä: I remember I scored a goal (he laughs) and that we won 1-0. Michael Owen played a good ball to me – and I almost hit it over the bar from a metre out with my left foot. I don't remember other things such as how the game went. But I remember my goal because I didn't score that many in my career.
What did you know about Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the time?
Hyypiä: We didn't know very much. But when you watched Leverkusen's games in the Champions League campaign then Lucio definitely stood out. He wasn't that well-known then but certainly was after that season. Of course, we knew some Leverkusen players, above all Michael Ballack. We knew that Leverkusen were a very good team. We played well in both quarter-final matches, including the second leg, but we let in too many goals.
You were the Man of the Match in the first leg according to Kicker. "Cautious defensive strategist with attacking qualities," was their justification.
Hyypiä: Okay (he laughs), that's really great. I didn't know that was in the Kicker.
There was applause from the Liverpool fans after the final whistle in the first leg – including for the Leverkusen performance. Did you see them as strong opponents?
Hyypiä: The crowd at Anfield have real expert knowledge. The spectators recognised that Leverkusen were tough opponents. They deservedly applauded Bayer because they were very fair too. We players didn't underestimate Leverkusen as we knew the results they picked up against top teams in the first and second group stages.
Klaus Toppmöller described the 1-0 defeat as a dangerous result for Bayer 04. How did you see it?
Hyypiä: We were optimistic after the first leg and thought that we were in a good position. We only needed to score one goal in the second leg due to the away goals rule so that Leverkusen would then have to score three. We actually scored two but unfortunately that wasn’t enough.
You often faced Dimitar Berbatov as a central defender. What was your impression of him?
Hyypiä: He was very good. Whenever he had an especially good day then there was always a surprise you didn't think possible. His first touch – wow, that was so good. He also read the game very well and he saw everything on the pitch. He played really good passes, was very calm on the ball, always knew what he would do with it and he had great confidence. Perhaps he wasn't fully focused sometimes as a young player. But he was an incredible player when he was focused. Back then he just needed to be more consistent.
What do you remember now of the second leg?
Hyypiä: I remember the atmosphere at the BayArena was very good. The fans were as one behind Leverkusen. It only went quiet for a moment when Jari Litmanen made it 3-2. But the roof almost came off when Lucio scored at 4-2 with a rocket shot. It was a great match for true football fans, for everybody who loves football. It wasn't a good game for me as a defender as we conceded four goals. But the result was fair; Bayer 04 were just better than Liverpool.
How often do you visit Liverpool?
Hyypiä: A lot. I do PR trips for the club – that takes me to Asia, America and also within Europe. Recently I've been to Liverpool less often because of coronavirus. But I'm still in good contact with the club and also very happy the way things have developed. In recent years I've really noticed how many fans the club has in Asia, America and beyond. We didn't see so much of that when I was playing.
How closely do you follow Bayer 04 these days?
Hyypiä: I try to watch every game but don't always manage it. I've been thinking for a long time that I should come back to Leverkusen to watch a game. Perhaps it will work out this season. I've been in contact with Simon Rolfes. Bayer 04 often play well in the Bundesliga. Leverkusen obviously have a good goalkeeper in Lukas Hradecky. I don't have to mention that he's from Finland, do I (he laughs). Lukas is always positive and that's important for the team. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Bayer 04 to have a good rest of the season and I wish my former club lots of luck.
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