Hierro: 'Piquenbauer' has striker's soul

MADRID - Even though Fernando Hierro piled up 29 goals in 89 matches for Spain he believes defensive successor Gerard Pique is a better player.

Barcelona were desperate for a goal in the latter stages of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final exit by Inter Milan and it was to Pique that coach Pep Guardiola turned, throwing him forward to act as a makeshift striker.

The 23-year-old, who also scored a superb goal in the 6-2 demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last season and has netted four times in 14 appearances for Spain, showed excellent skill and composure to fire home in the 84th minute.

"People compare him to me but I think he has a lot more quality because he scores goals with a striker's soul," former Real Madrid stalwart Hierro told As newspaper.

"You look at some of the things he does with the ball and it stuns you," added Spain's technical director. "He thinks like a forward."

Such versatility could be a valuable weapon for Spain coach Vicente del Bosque at the World Cup in South Africa in June.

PECKING ORDER

The central defender known by the media as "Piquenbauer", after Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, has shot up the pecking order with club and country since returning to the Catalan capital in 2008 after three seasons at Manchester United and one on loan at Real Zaragoza.

Del Bosque is likely to pair him with Barca captain Carles Pujol at the back, a partnership that has contributed much to the club's achievement of conceding only 21 goals in 35 La Liga matches this season.

Tall and strong, Pique is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and has a sound understanding with Barca and Spain midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

There are also other strings to his bow, according to sports daily El Mundo Deportivo.

"His footballing qualities aside, Pique impresses for his strong personality and leadership skills," the paper wrote on Monday.

"We're not just talking about a great centre-back but a player who is totally committed and has the ability of a striker, as his goal against Inter proved."

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