Sometimes the biggest stage brings out the best in emerging young players. That couldn't be more true for Bayer Leverkusen's Joel Pohjanpalo, scorer of an 11-minute hat trick to win his side three points on Saturday.
Did you just ask "who?" His name is pronounced "Poe-yan-pal-oh," but you can just call him Danger like the Bayer fans have taken to doing, due to his resemblance to a well-known character from the German film "Fack ju Göthe."
Currently the Bundesliga's joint-leading goalscorer (level with Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski) with four goals, Pohjanpalo is the only player that's scored for Die Werkself this season -- and he's played only 30 minutes of soccer. He netted against Borussia Mönchengladbach just a minute after entering as a substitute on Matchday 1, but Leverkusen lost despite his goal.
The result was different on Saturday at the BayArena. With 72 minutes gone, and his side trailing Hamburg 1-0 at home, Roger Schmidt had seen enough from Admir Mehmedi and sent on Pohjanpalo. "Mach ein tor" -- score a goal -- is all he said to the Finn.
It had been a frustrating match for the Bayer manager. Winger Karim Bellarabi picked up an injury just 12 seconds in, and goalkeeper Bernd Leno's error on the HSV goal left his team staring a second straight defeat square in the face. Little did he know that his side's fortunes were about to change. Rapidly.
Six minutes later, Leverkusen were in the midst of a good spell of possession. Pouring men forward in search of that equalizing goal, Kevin Kampl played a driven pass into the 18-yard box to the feet of Pohjanpalo. The Finn's first touch was awful. Playing with his back to goal, the ball popped up 10 feet into the air upon making contact with his right boot. Nerves, maybe? But he sprinted two yards back towards midfield and won a header, laying it off to Wendell and keeping the ball with his team. Eventually, the ball found its way into the box. HSV defender Cléber Reis was glued to Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, but his partner (and former Leverkusen man) Emir Spahić was nowhere to be found. The ball floats over Hernández and finds an unmarked Pohjanpalo, who headed into an empty net. 1-1.
Bayer kept up their signature energetic and aggressive press for the remaining 12 minutes of regulation, but could only muster one shot. The assistant referee's board came up showing four minutes of stoppage time.
Schmidt, with his third and final substitution, made another brilliant tactical decision. Benjamin Henrichs switched from right back to left after Tin Jedvaj replaced Wendell in the 88th minute. In stoppage time, Henrichs collected the ball, avoid a tackle, and skipped down the flank. He played in a low cross that split three defenders, and Pohjanpalo swung his right leg at it, smashing the first-time effort past Adler. He had a winner. The crowd couldn't believe it.
Credit: user meladroit on r/soccer
And then he completed a hat trick. In the fourth and final minute of added time, Bayer were racing on an odd-man counterattacking rush. Julian Brandt led the charge on the right flank and squared to Chicharito at the top of the 18. Three defenders converged, but they'd forgotten about Pohjanpalo.
Hernández hadn't, however, and found the Finn right as he's was entering the box. Danger took a touch, setting up a right-footed smash to the near post. 3-1. He's the unlikeliest of hat trick heroes, at least to everyone in the world except one person.
Just spoken to Joel Pohjanpalo in the mixed zone - one of the Leverkusen physios told him he would score 3 today (!) https://t.co/u9QWs2skBQ— Archie Rhind-Tutt (@archiert1) September 10, 2016
"I'm a striker and I simply want to score goals every game and any chance I can," he told Bayer04 TV after the match. "And if I don't do that, I'm not happy. But today was super and I had four chances and three goals and we won and that's the most important thing."
He's turning 22 on Tuesday, but Pohjanpalo certainly has to feel that his time to shine is a little overdue. Saturday wasn't the first time Joel has scored three goals to rescue a match in a ridiculously short time span.
Flashback to April 15, 2012. It's opening day of the Finnish Veikkausliiga and Pohjanpalo got the start for his hometown club HJK Helsinki against IFK Mariehamn.
HJK, 27-time champions of the Finnish league, are rich in silverware and glory. But nothing in their 107-year history is quite like what 17-year-old Danger did that day. In the 71st minute, HJK were down 1-0. By the 74th, Pohjanpalo had put the game out of reach.
Header, left foot, right foot. A perfect hat trick, and in the span of 162 seconds.
Since then, it's been a wild ride for Pohjanpalo. In August of 2012 he rejected a three-year contract offer Liverpool, having trialed on Merseyside that March, as regular playing time wasn't guaranteed. That search has continued.
He first joined Bayer from HJK in September 2013. Danger was subsequently loaned to VfR Aalen, where he scored five times. Pohjanpalo extended his contract at HJK in April of 2014, Leverkusen liked what they saw that season, so they extended his deal for a further two years, until the end of the 2015-16 season.
The confusing loans continued, and Pohjanpalo spent the 2014-15 and 15-16 campaigns in the 2. Bundesliga with Fortuna Düsseldorf. Things were looking up after 11 goals in his first year with Fortuna, whose fans called him "The Iceman." Last season was disappointing as Pohjanpalo scored just twice in 26 appearances, but Leverkusen kept the faith and exercised the option to purchase him from HJK in March for an undisclosed fee.
Injuries certainly have played a part in Pohjanpalo getting playing time at Bayer this season, as all-time leading Leverkusen goalscorer Stefan Kießling's hip injury sustained in February worsened in preseason, while Chicharito and Kevin Volland have both missed time as well.
But having been thrust into the first-team picture, Pohjanpalo is making the most of his opportunity. With four goals in 30 minutes, Schmidt is going to have to keep giving him chances.