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  Tuesday, 22 October, 2002, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
Houllier hails 'special' Owen
Michael Owen (right) fights for the ball with Spartak's Igor Mitreski
Owen (right) proved the difference between the sides
Gerard Houllier described Michael Owen as his "special star" after the England striker scored a hat-trick in Liverpool's 3-1 win over Spartak Moscow.

Owen's treble - his first Champions League goals in a year - mean Liverpool are now on track to claim one of the two qualifying places in Group B, behind leaders Valencia.


Now we have a run of home games and we can push ahead on all fronts
Gerard Houllier

"Michael deserves special credit for his hat-trick, to do that away from home in Europe is a special achievement," said Liverpool boss Houllier.

"I remember that a couple of months ago Michael was getting all sorts of stick for not scoring goals. Now he's done it for us and England.

"I rested him because that game for England in Bratislava was on a very heavy pitch and took a lot out of him.

"But when I bring him back I know he is the one to score the important goals on big occasions.

"I knew Leeds would be a hard game for him and he had played seven matches on the trot, so it was right to rest him.

"Now we have a run of home games and we can push ahead on all fronts."

Although Liverpool have not yet guaranteed a top-two finish in Group B, Houllier is confident of reaching the last 16.

He said: "I told the boys before the game that we have to depend on ourselves. If we need 13 points now to qualify we will go and get them against Valencia and Basle."

Houllier also explained the withdrawal of Gregory Vignal, who came on as a second-half substitute for Emile Heskey, only to be replaced 20 minutes later by Igor Biscan.

He said: "We needed more height. I knew when we went 2-1 up that they would throw the long ball in so I wanted Igor Biscan out there for his height."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's John Murray
"Michael Owen is still top dog on Merseyside"
Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier
"It was an exceptional feat by Michael"
Liverpool's Sami Hyypia
"Hopefully Michael will continue that form"

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