Never mind current Bundesliga heavyweights such as Schalke striker Ebbe Sand, Bayern Munich keeper Oliver Kahn and his midfield team-mate Mehmet Scholl. Werder Bremen’s Peruvian front-man Claudio Pizarro has outshone them all in the second half of this season.

The 22-year-old, who joined Werder in 1999 from Alianza Lima, has been on a slow-burning fuse this term. Up to Christmas he had scored only four times. But after the winter break he netted 15 goals in as many League games and set up seven for his team-mates.

Werder have a rich tradition of discovering outstanding strikers – for example, Rudi Voller and Karl-Heinz Riedle – and Pizarro certainly has the abilityto proceed on the same upward curve.

Indeed, it is hard to discern any weaknesses in the young Peruvian’s game. He is quick, strong, two-footed, has good technique, heads powerfully and has a killer instinct in front of goal.

However, he is not just a converter of simple chances. Pizarro is very much a man for the spectacular finish and two of his most sensational efforts – against Wolfsburg and Schalke earlier this year – must be in contention for Goal of the Season.

Taciturn Werder coach Thomas Schaaf is not naturally inclined to dole out fulsome praise but even he makes an exception in the case of’El Bombardero’. ‘Claudio has all the qualities a world-class striker needs. He’s only young but he’s already a very intelligent player and I don’t think there can be any doubt that there is much more to come from him.’

The snag for Schaaf and Werder fans is that Pizarro, the son of an Italian mother and Peruvian father, is unlikely to be at the club next season. Although his contract runs until summer 2003, it contains a œ5million get-out clause, and the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia, Inter and Deportivo La Coruna are all rumoured to be willing and able to take advantage of it.

Paradoxically, while Pizarro’s stock rises inEurope, he has looked anything but a terror to defences during Peru’s below-par World Cup qualifying campaign.

He failed to score in their first 12 games and despite claiming he has not had many chances to get his teeth into and that jet-lag from frequent Atlantic crossings has handicapped him, he knows only too well thathis international career is on the line.

‘Pizza’ needs to deliver some goals for Peru – urgently.

FACT FILE
Club
Werder Bremen (Ger)
Country Peru
Born October 3, 1978, in Callao
Previous clubs Deportivo Pesquero, Alianza Lima
International debut February 1999, v Ecuador
International caps 21 (3 goals)
Honours Peruvian Footballer of the Year 1999