Sunday, December 30, 2012

Escape To Suomi - A Year In Review

This site was born in June 2012, not long after the start of the Finnish league season and something to do while watching the European Championships. As the year has gone on, we've provided summaries of matches, the hot topics of the moment, and some other pieces which have required a lot of work.

As is tradition, it's time to look at the five most read articles on the site since it's inception, and hopefully gather some feedback.

Number 5 - Suomen Cup final preview

Written the night before the final, the blog previewed Honka v KuPS. Both sides were unlikely to qualify for the Europa League through league placing, and Honka were looking for a first cup win, with KuPS not having won it since 1989. In the end, Honka won the final 1-0, however the aftermath was dominated by controversy after both clubs were fined due to over-zealous support from the travelling fans.

Photo courtesy of Vartaloharhautus

Number 4 - The 1912 Finnish Olympic football team

Conceived during the London Olympics, and some cursory glances through the record books showed the Finland came fourth in the men's football event. Not bad given that they've never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship. More interestingly, it brought the tales of smuggler Algoth Niska and journalist Eino Soinio to a wider audience after the article was picked up and adjusted for esteemed football site In Bed With Maradona.

Eino Soinio

Number 3 - King Litmanen - The Movie

Kuningas Litmanen was the documentary released this autumn about Jari Litmanen. The movie was a big success, reporting big takings for a documentary and also getting an airing at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film is out now on DVD, and features talking heads from such luminaries as Louis van Gaal, Steven Gerrard and Dennis Bergkamp. A full review of the DVD will appear on this site in the new year.

No mention of what the deleted scenes are

Number 2 - Carl Jenkinson

One of the big talking points amongst Finnish football fans and writers was about Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson, who had represented the Finnish U21 team, via his Finnish mother. After a fantastic start to the English season (standing in for the injured Bacary Sagna), the debate soon hit English shores. Under FIFA rules he was allowed to change allegiance once, and after being invited to train with England, he then made his full debut as a substitute in a friendly against Sweden.

 England's Carl Jenkinson

Number 1 - European prize money

As Finnish clubs progressed in European qualifiers (well, HJK and KuPS at least), the financiers were rubbing their hands at the prospect of the money on offer, as well as the potential for the lucrative group stages. KuPS made it as far as the third qualifying round (losing to Bursaspor), while HJK lost to Celtic in the Champions League qualifier and then Bilbao in the Europa League play-offs. Both will have done reasonably well, KuPS in particular grateful for the money as they posted 2012 losses of 200000. Financially challenged Honka could benefit from a decent run in 2013/14, it was only confirmed last week that they have met the UEFA licensing conditions.


For 2013, I'll be continuing the weekly Veikkausliiga reviews, and inviting submissions for articles about Finnish football or Finns abroad. I'll be attending the World Cup qualifier against Belarus in Helsinki in June, and against France in Paris in October, so hopefully more about the international team as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Veikkausliiga 2013 - not all about the money

On Wednesday evening, the Finnish Football League licensing committee will meet to decide on the Veikkausliiga licenses for the 2013 season. It's been well documented that Suomen Cup winners Honka have had financial difficulties, but on Monday it was revealed that three clubs have been asked to provide documents and assurances that they could fulfil a top flight season. 

 Cup winners Honka, could they be relegated for off-the-pitch problems?

Ykkönen runners-up SJK and third-placed side Viikingit have been invited, as were the team relegated in 2012, Haka. It would be a huge shock for three clubs to be promoted. KuPS last week posted financial losses for the season of €200,000, meaning they have lost €1.1m over the last three seasons. Their main financier Ari Lahti will continue to bankroll them, but for how long?

Will any of these clubs join the 2013 party?

Well money isn't the be all and end all. As part of UEFA regulations, the Finnish league are obliged to ensure that the competing clubs meet the main objectives:

a) to further promote and continuously improve the standard of all aspects of football in Europe and to give continued priority to the training and care of young players in every club;
b) to ensure that clubs have an adequate level of management and organisation;
c) to adapt clubs’ sporting infrastructure to provide players, spectators and media representatives with suitable, well-equipped and safe facilities;
d) to protect the integrity and smooth running of the UEFA club competitions;
e) to allow the development of benchmarking for clubs in financial, sporting, legal, personnel, administrative and infrastructure-related criteria throughout Europe.

Perhaps Honka's financial troubles, with the recent disputes about players looking into legal angles, won't meet D.

We will know on Thursday what the final line-up will be for 2013. The Veikkausliiga website made a point of trying to avoid leaving it late, but with the Liigacup draw already made, could we have Ykkönen clubs involved?

It's only been two years since the whole structure of the league was forced to change because of the removal of Tampere United and AC Oulu, so at least it's a step in the right direction that it's being sorted before Christmas. But Finnish clubs (and the governing body) will need to ensure the stability of the clubs to avoid this confusion again next year.

Friday, December 07, 2012

What happened to the teams that ended Finnish European chances?

With UEFA's showpiece club tournaments reaching their winter break, it's time to review how far the clubs went who put an end to Finnish hopes in the late summer. It's been 14 years since a Finnish club was still playing continental football in December (HJK were in the Champions League group stage in 1998 - link to the blog), and it didn't really get close this year either.

HJK - Lost to Celtic, then Athletic Bilbao

2011 Veikkausliiga champions HJK had another crack at the European Cup, entering the second qualifying round and a tie versus Icelandic champions KR Reykjavik. A 7-0 home victory, including a hat-trick by Juho Mäkelä, was followed by a 2-1 win in Iceland, and through to the third qualifying round. There they faced Scottish champions Celtic, and lost 2-1 in Glasgow. Despite Neil Lennon's moaning about HJK's artificial turf, Celtic won the second leg 2-0 and sent HJK into the Europa League. Celtic then defeated Helsingborg 4-0 on aggregate in the play-off round to make it to the group stages. They were drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, and managed to finish second in the group, including two wins over Spartak and a home win against Barcelona. Celtic go into the draw for the round of 16 draw on December 20th. 

HJK's consolation was a Europa League play-off tie against the 2011/12 runners-up Athletic Bilbao. But a 6-0 defeat at San Mames extinguished any ideas, and a slightly crazy 3-3 draw in Helsinki meant another premature departure for HJK. Bilbao struggled to reach the heights of the previous season though, having lost Javi Martinez and sidelining Fernando Llorente, and finished third in Group I, behind Lyon and Sparta Prague, winning only one game - at Kiryat Shmona (who fielded Finnish international Roni Porokara).

KuPS - Lost to Bursaspor

KuPS reached the furthest level of the direct Europa League entrants, making it to the third qualifying round after defeating Llanelli (Wales) and Maccabi Netanya (Israel) before losing 1-6 to Turkish side Bursaspor, despite winning the first leg 1-0. The Turks went through to the play-off round, where they faced FC Twente of Holland. They won the first leg 3-1, and after losing 1-3 in Holland after 90 mins, the tie was heading for penalties before Leroy Fer scored a late goal to seal the tie 5-4 on aggregate and send Bursaspor out.

Inter - Lost to Twente

Inter entered the Europa League at the second qualifying round, where they drew Steve McClaren's FC Twente. The first leg in Holland surprisingly finished 1-1, but the second leg saw Twente visit Turku and win 5-0. Twente then played Czech team Mladá Boleslav, winning both legs 2-0 for a 4-0 aggregate. The play-off round saw them face Bursaspor, and won 5-4 (see above under KuPS). They reached the group stage, and were drawn in Group L with Hannover, Levante and Helsingborg, but failed to win a match and exited the group with four points.

MYPA - Lost to Rapid Bucharest 

MYPA qualified for the Europa League via the Fair Play route, and were drawn in the first qualifying round against Welsh second tier Cefn Druids, who were runners up in the Welsh Cup. A 0-0 draw in the first leg was followed by a routine 5-0 win back in Finland, which saw them through to the second qualifying round against Romanian cup runners-up Rapid Bucharest. A 1-3 defeat in Romania was followed by a 0-2 home defeat, a 1-5 aggregate defeat. Rapid went through to play Dutch club Heerenveen in the third qualifying round, but lost the first leg in Holland 4-0, and a 1-0 win in the second leg was academic.

JJK - Lost to Zeta 

JJK's first ever European campaign began with a first qualifying round tie against Norwegians Stabæk, and they won the first leg at home 2-0. But a nervy second leg saw them lose 2-3, and made it through 4-3 on aggregate. Their reward was a tie against Montenegro side Zeta, and won the first leg at home 3-2, but lost 1-0 in Montenegro and exited on the away goals rule. Zeta progressed to a tie against FK Sarajevo, and again progressed on away goals after losing the first leg 2-1, but winning 1-0 at home. Through to the play-off round, they drew PSV Eindhoven and were well and truly stuffed, losing 0-5 and 0-9 for a 0-14 aggregate defeat. PSV were knocked out of the group stage behind Dnipro and Napoli.