Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 3 - low scores and blue scarves

A full programme of Veikkausliiga fixtures started with the statistic that in the opening nine matches, there had been twenty-one goals by twenty-one different scorers. That appears to have cursed the weekend, which provided five goals in six matches.

After some feedback that previous blogs were a bit lengthy and lacking structure, I'm trying a new layout. As usual, all suggestions welcome!

RoPS 1-0 TPS

RoPS had a third consecutive home game to start their return to the top division, and technically this was a second win. The 1-1 draw with Lahti became a 3-0 win after Lahti fielded a suspended player, so RoPS were on a winning streak coming into this game, fresh from a surprise Suomen Cup victory against HJK. TPS were on a losing streak of two, home reverses against VPS (league) and IFK Mariehamn (cup). Wayne Brown tweeted that it was a twelve-hour coach trip, and it showed.

 Rolled into an empty goal by Lahtinen (photo via Lapin Kansa)

The only goal came in the eighth minute after a long ball was met by some frankly comedy defending by TPS - Henrik Moisander stuttered outside his box, and Mika Lahtinen headed the ball past, and put it into an empty net. Both teams had several half-chances, while Jarkko Hurme could have been sent off for a late tackle on Victor Turcios. TPS hit the bar, and RoPS screwed up a late counter attack.

RoPS have six points out of nine, a decent return from three games, albeit assisted by Lahti. TPS meanwhile have lost two already, and better sides will enjoy facing defending that bad.

Highlights of RoPS 1-0 TPS

JJK 0-0 Lahti

After Lahti's forfeiture of their game against RoPS, this became a first point of the season, and another point for JJK (who drew 2-2 in Mariehamn last week). A rematch of the recent Liigacup final, won by a late goal from Lahti, but without a result.

Ville Viljala foils Tommi Kari (photo via JJK.fi)

The general consensus is that 0-0 was the right result, with few clean-cut chances. JJK have lost Eero Markkanen for six weeks or so to injury, while Lahti have a lot of new signings bedding in - although Vini Dantas came closest to scoring but was foiled by JJK keeper Viljala.

Not a lot to write about, but Lahti team coach Lasse Peltonen talked about the team's mental strength. His best Arsene Wenger impression. No mention of spirit, commitment or quality though...

Highlights of JJK 0-0 Lahti

KuPS 0-1 IFK Mariehamn

Three matches into the season, and the first cries of "Pekonen Out" were heard in the Savon Sanomat Areena on Sunday. A tepid KuPS performance started by conceding to another Petteri Forsell goal after eleven minutes, assisted by Diego Assis after a long clearance from the keeper. KuPS had keeper Mika Hilander to thank for keeping it at 1-0 after saving a Forsell penalty, while some tame finishing also let down the visitors.

Ill discipline cost KuPS again as Omar Colley received a second yellow card on 63mins (his first yellow gave away the penalty). He seemed intent on gifting IFK the points, and certainly didn't impress - he was tipped as one of the best signings of the winter.

Omar Colley - not pictured, red card

KuPS have had as many red cards as goals this season (2), and have just one point from their opening three matches. IFK Mariehamn have now got seven points, and sit top of the table prior to Inter v HJK on Thursday. The re-signing of Forsell appears to be working wonders, at times he seemed on a different level to the others on the pitch. He's due to return to parent club Bursaspor at the end of August.

Highlights of KuPS 0-1 IFK Mariehamn

VPS 0-0 Honka

VPS built on their 1-0 win at TPS with another clean sheet. Honka registered their first point after two 2-0 defeats. Another recovering pitch was deemed ready.

Honka defended stoutly, keeper Viitala stopped a long range shot while Parikka's follow-up was blocked; before another Parikka effort was stopped by the Honka goalie. Viitala was in the wars in the second half, taking several blows while earning his clean sheet.

Antti Mäkijärvi looks to get past Parikka (photo via YLE)

Most VPS chances came from set pieces, but new signing Tomi Ameobi didn't look too dangerous. One goal in their opening matches could be a sign of missing Steven Morrissey, but VPS certainly tried out several forwards over the winter. Honka are yet to score in a league match, while defender Gideon Baah scored their only goal in their cup win against KooTeePee. More work required, and will anxiously await the return of Tim Väyrynen.

Highlights of VPS 0-0 Honka


HJK's first home match of the season was met by a campaign of decorating the capital's statues with blue and white scarves - legendary runner Paavo Nurmi was bedecked in HJK merchandise.

Nurmi running in blue (photo via Metro.fi)

MYPA had got four points from their opening two matches, while HJK had won 2-0 at Honka. But HJK showed why they're favourites, dominating the match. Mikael Forssell hit the post, then a goal in first half stoppage time from Erfan Zeneli gave them a 1-0 lead, after he'd already had several chances to score. 

Things eased up in the second half, MYPA failed to take advantage, as Demba Savage scored his first goal of the season with seven minutes remaining. A second consecutive 2-0 win, in front of the biggest league crowd of the season so far (not that the sound on the highlights video would corroborate).

 Zeneli and O'Shaughnessy do battle (photo via YLE)

Summer arrival Teemu Tainio was the outstanding player, running the midfield with tackles, interceptions, as well as looking incisive going forward. The number 10 could be the most crucial player in the side. MYPA meanwhile were toothless, with their usual saviour Pekka Sihvola drawing a blank. While hard to judge objectively from a highlights video, their bus appeared to be parked in front of their own goal.

Highlights of HJK 2-0 MYPA

Inter 1-0 Jaro

Last year's runners-up Inter got off to winning ways in their first home game of the season. Having lost at MYPA last week, they needed to keep in touch. Jaro had won at home to KuPS in week two, but had been tipped by most to struggle in 2013.

The Veritas Stadion pitch looked awful after the recent poor weather, but the game went ahead in front of 1028 spectators. The only goal came after 32 minutes, a long range shot from Tamas Gruborovics moved in the air, and Jaro keeper Öst merely took the sting out of the shot and dropped it into the path of Solomon Duah, who rolled it in.

 Inter's new signing Felipe Aspegren pitching in (photo via Mats Lundberg)

Inter keeper Magnus Bahne again made some crucial saves, and Jaro hit the post from a free-kick by Hendrik Helmke. Helmke took to Twitter to moan about the highlights reel not doing the game justice. I'd love to be able to help, but Kutonen no longer stream in the UK, so if anyone wants to do me a favour and pay for Finnish satellite TV, I'll be grateful.

So Inter made it to the finish line as winners, and their first three points. Inter entertain HJK on Thursday in their re-arranged week 1 match, and will need to play a lot better.

Highlights of Inter 1-0 Jaro

The coming week's fixtures are:

Thursday 2nd May

Inter v HJK
(from week one)

Sunday 5th May

Jaro v HJK
IFK Mariehamn v Inter
Lahti v KuPS
MYPA v Honka

Friday, April 26, 2013

Suomen Cup sixth round summary (and draw)

I hadn't planned on doing a blog in relation to this week's cup ties, but they turned out to be very interesting indeed... So I'll just do a couple of lines for each match so you can keep up.

PS Kemi 0-2 VPS

Kakkonen Pohjoislohko (third tier north) side Kemi Kings hosted top flight VPS, fresh from defeating TPS 0-1. Kemi held their opponents to a goalless first half, but in the first minute of the second half, Ville Koskimaa and Patrik Lomski scored the goals to take the Vaasa side through. VPS will host JJK in the quarter-finals.

VPS keeper Henri Sillanpää claims the ball (photo via Pohjolan Sanomat)

TPV 1-3 FC Haka

Tampere club TPV, of the Kakkonen Länsilohko (third tier west), hosted twelve-times winners FC Haka on Wednesday in front of 707 people in Tampere. The Ykkönen favourites took the lead through Juha Pirinen on 32mins, but the underdogs equalised straight away through former Haka man Mohamed Koroma. But goals from Tomi Petrescu (free kick on 40 minutes) and Jussi Aalto (56) sent Haka through. They face a home tie with KuPS in the last eight. Here are some excellent photos from the match by Petteri Lehtonen.

Sunny arsed Haka (photo via TPV.fi)

BK-46 0-0 JJK (aet, JJK won 1-4 on penalties)

Another Kakkonen side, BK-46 (of the Etelälohko, or Southern, division) hosted Veikkausliiga opponents JJK, and were close to the biggest shock of the round. As expected, JJK bossed it, but even their official website admitted that as the game went on, the confidence of the home team increased. After 120 minutes, the match went to penalties, but the away team won 1-4. JJK will travel to VPS in the quarter-finals.

JJK's Mikko Innanen prepares to take a corner (photo via Edi Lindberg)

TPS 2-3 IFK Mariehamn (aet)

An all-Veikkausliiga match in Turku ended up becoming the tie of the round. The visitors took the lead just before half-time, on-loan Petteri Forsell scored from a cut back. After the break, TPS took the lead through goals by Ääritalo and Tanska, but Mariehamn sub Dever Orgill equalised and sent the game to extra time. Forsell scored again in the third minute of extra time, and inflicted a second successive home defeat on TPS. IFK Mariehamn progress to a last eight tie at holders Honka.

Highlights of TPS 2-3 IFK Mariehamn

FC Jazz 1-0 JIPPO

Another Kakkonen Länsilohko side FC Jazz were in action against Ykkönen club JIPPO, and it was the home side who prevailed. It was defender Joonas Salo who scored the only goal of the game, after 56 minutes. Even infamous JIPPO trick shot keeper Lassi Hurskainen couldn't keep that out. FC Jazz are the only Kakkonen side in the last eight, where they will play at home against RoPS.

FC Jazz scorer Joonas Salo (photo via FC Jazz.com)

FC KooTeePee 0-1 FC Honka

Holders Honka travelled to Kotka as their cup defence progressed. The Ykkönen side lasted nine minutes against their higher level opponents, Ghanaian defender Gideon Baah headed in from a corner after early pressure. Only 275 people witnessed a match which saw several chances for both teams, but Honka stay in the tournament. They have a home tie against IFK Mariehamn in the quarter-finals.

Highlights of FC KooTeePee 0-1 FC Honka

FC Lahti 1-2 KuPS

A rematch of one of the Liigacup semi-finals, but with a different outcome. KuPS had suffered an indifferent start to the season (draw with MYPA, defeat to Jaro), while Lahti's draw with RoPS looks like being forfeited due an ineligible player. KuPS went into half-time a goal ahead, Aleksi Paananen scoring on 31 minutes. Miikka Ilo doubled the advantage after 65mins, before Lahti sub Rafael pulled one back. But 2012 runners-up KuPS held on, and face a trip to FC Haka in the last eight.

Leaping for the ball (photo via Katja Luoma)

RoPS 1-0 HJK

What ended up being the biggest shock was in Rovaniemi, as champions HJK lost at RoPS. HJK had made changes to the team which defeated Honka on Monday, but would still be surprised to lose. It was a Ville Saxman goal in the second half which made the difference, after 56 minutes. HJK made the long trip by plane, but the trip back will have felt like longer. Defender Nikolai Alho tweeted that the flight was full of young Justin Bieber fans, which won't have helped. RoPS play FC Jazz in the next round.

HJK's Teemu Tainio (in yellow) keeps the ball from Saxman (photo via Lapin Kansa)

Quarter-final draw

FC Jazz v RoPS 

FC Honka v IFK Mariehamn


FC Haka v KuPS

(Matches to be played in the week beginning May 20th)

Semi-final draw

FC Jazz/RoPS v FC Honka/IFK Mariehamn


(Matches to be played in the week beginning August 17th)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 2 - VPS and Jaro start with wins, Forssell returns with goal

Week two of the 2013 Veikkausliiga season went ahead as planned (other than a couple of venue changes), and saw wins for two of the sides tipped to struggle.

The first fixture of the weekend was again a home fixture for TPS, and again moved to the municipal pitches of Turku. This time the visitors were VPS,  tipped by many to struggle, and without last year's top scorer Steven Morrissey. TPS had won their opening fixture 2-0 against Honka, the goals scored in the second half when they had a man advantage.

Mikko Hyyrynen threatens (photo via Turun Sanomat)

VPS didn't give TPS such a chance, and gave as good as they got. Pennanen and Ääritalo had chances for the home side, while American Jordan Seabrook had a couple of decent efforts for VPS. But it was the visitors who scored the only goal of the game, in the 88th minute. Captain Sebastian Strandvall found space on the edge of the box and floated in a cross, which was met by Jarno Parikka and headed into the top left corner.

VPS giving chase

Pennanen broke past two players and shot over the bar from outside the area, but there wasn't enough time to equalise, and the VPS players celebrated an unlikely victory. The boys from Vaasa ended 2012 in poor form, with seven points from ten matches. But this win was a surprise, and TPS will be shocked. TPS coach Marko Rajamäki admitted his side were too cautious, while defender Sami Rähmönen denied they were complacent.

Either way, it's a shock result, and sees VPS off the mark. Perhaps it's three points in their bid to avoid relegation, or for an unlikely push to the top half. VPS host Honka next week, while TPS make the long journey north to Rovaniemi to play RoPS.

Highlights of TPS 0-1 VPS

Sunday's four fixtures all went ahead, starting in with RoPS v Lahti, a fixture that was switched from Lahti due to an icy pitch at the Lahden Stadion. RoPS had lost their opening fixture at home to IFK Mariehamn, but their forward Aleksandr Kokko had started to make good on his promise to score in every game, with the consolation in a 3-1 defeat. Lahti's match against JJK was postponed, but the Liigacup winners were tipped by many to finish in the top 3.

A goalless first half saw two yellow cards, but little else. Antti Okkonen gave the home side the lead with a free kick, but RoPS did little to impress otherwise. Lahti's Brazilian forward Vini Dantas pulled it back to 1-1 with three minutes to go, while Mika Mäkitalo almost won it for Lahti with the last attack. Palloseura-Blogi has some photos and more words about the game.

Highlights of RoPS 1-1 Lahti

The game ended 1-1, and with six yellow cards (four for RoPS, two for Lahti). Kokko failed to score, and his pre-season boast was already ruined. RoPS have got one point from their opening fixtures, and have another home game against TPS on Sunday. Lahti travel to Jyväskylä to face JJK.

The live game on UrhoTV (of which I did catch the second half) was MYPA v FC Inter. MYPA had drawn 1-1 at KuPS last week, while Inter's match against HJK was postponed due to the pitch at the Veritas Stadion. The pitch at the Kymenlaakson Sähkö Stadion had recovered from the heating incident, and 1124 people squeezed in.

Inter had chances to go ahead, MYPA scored an own goal, then Tamás Gruborovics hit the post after a lovely shot on the turn. 2012 goal king Irakli Sirbiladze will want to ignore shanking the ball wide in front of the goal from the rebound... Last week's scorer for MYPA headed straight at Inter keeper Bahne, and the first half ended goalless.

 Inter attach the MYPA goal (photo from TS.fi)

Williams screwed the ball wide at the start of the second half, and then Aho forced another save out of Bahne from a corner. Sihvola then narrowly missed from 25 yards out from a free kick, and it looked destined to end 0-0. But a one-two with Hassan Sesay and Sihvola led to a goal on 84 minutes, Sesay banging it home. Inter coach Job Dragtsma was sent to the stands for his protests, including kicking a drink bottle as defender Aleksi Laiho was prevented from returning to the field. Dragtsma will cop at least a one game touchline ban.

Dragtsma banished

The game ended 1-0 to the home side, and Inter's miserable 2013 continues. MYPA go second with 4 points from their two games, and look grateful that Sihvola stayed. MYPA coach Toni Korkeakunnas said his side earned the victory. But will be happy with a win in their first home fixture.

Highlights of MYPA 1-0 FC Inter

IFK Mariehamn had returned from their epic voyage to RoPS in week one with three points, and were hosting a JJK side who hadn't played a league match yet. Another goalless first half greeted the 1412 paying customers, but Robin Östlind went close on a couple of occasions and Mattias Wiklöf headed over.

With four minutes of the second half gone, Östlind capitalised on a defensive mistake to slot home his first league goal for IFK Mariehamn. He could have doubled the score, but was denied by a good save from JJK keeper Viljala. Visiting sub Jani Virtanen then hit a free kick narrowly over the bar, then Mikko Innanen scored a speculative goal with 65mins gone that really should have been saved.

IFK keeper Simon Nurme took the weight of Virtanen in a challenge for the ball, and took around 5 rolls afterwards. JJK sub Babatunde Wusu burst through some slack play, saw his shot saved and roll into the path of Mikko Manninen who put the ball in, and JJK 2-1 ahead. The visitors looked like taking all three points in their first league fixture.

 Bright (holding ball) after the equaliser (photo via Jonas Edsvik)

But Mariehamn pushed back, and eventually got their equaliser in the last minute. New Zealand striker Kris Bright, signed from Haka in the winter, turned the ball in at the second attempt from a low cross. Contrary to the official score update, it definitely wasn't a penalty!

Not a penalty... What else have they got wrong?

Despite late pressure from the home team (including a good save by Viljala), the match finished 2-2, which left IFK Mariehamn top on four points, and JJK pick up a good away point in their first game. JJK were ninth in 2012, partially distracted by a European run. With a clear season ahead (other than their Suomen Cup campaign, which starts this week in the sixth round at BK-46), they will also be looking to emulate their bronze medal in 2011.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 2-2 JJK

Last season's 11th placed side Jaro have been tipped by many to struggle this season, and they opened their 2013 season with a home match against a KuPS side who were looking to improve on their tenth place of last season. KuPS needed a late goal to draw 1-1 with MYPA last week, but were still bedding in new players. The match took place at Pietarsaaren Länsikenttä due to the poor pitch (suffering from the weather) at Jaro's home ground.

The hosts needed just 32 seconds to take the lead, a long ball from Jaro keeper Öst found it's way to exciting prospect Simon Skrabb, who put it away from 15 yards out. Quite the surprise from the team tipped by many to get relegated at the end of the season. But with 20 minutes gone, KuPS man Dawda Bah missed a gilt-edged chance to score, screwing his shot wide with just the keeper to beat.

 Opening scorer Skrabb (photo via www.ffjaro.fi)

Just before half-time, Gambian defender Omar Colley equalised for KuPS, heading in from a corner. Colley is a big man, and used his strength well, holding off his marker.

But the lead only lasted until the 49th minute, when Canadian international Frank Jonke ran towards goal, and was brought down in the box by KuPS skipper Rami Hakanpää - who earned a second yellow card, and an early bath. Jaro captain stepped up and scored, although Mika Hilander went the right way.

 Hendrik Helmke has a go (photo via Markku Jokela)

Jaro came closest to winning it, but the game finished a surprising 2-1. KuPS have started with 1 point from two games, while Jaro sit fourth.

Highlights of FF Jaro 2-1 KuPS

Monday night's fixture was between 2012 cup winners Honka and champions HJK. Honka lost their first game against TPS 2-0, and lost Henri Aalto to a red card. HJK had been due to travel to Inter, but the game was postponed. HJK fans arrived in Tapiola by big red London bus, and the team came away with a capital win (if you'll pardon the pun).

 The travelling HJK fans (photo via www.HJK.fi)

HJK lined up with new arrivals Mikael Forssell (who first left Helsinki in 1998), Teemu Tainio and former Honka captain Tapio Heikkilä. Honka were missing the suspended Henri Aalto, but featured new boys Abdoulaye Méïté, Rubén Palazuelos and Gideon Baah. It was also the first league match for new HJK coach Sixten Boström.

It was an eventful start, HJK keeper making a fantastic triple save in the sixth minute, and Baah picked up a yellow card in his second consecutive match. But it only took until the eighth minute for the opening goal, and it was Forssell nodding in after a poor connection from Palazuelos.

 Forssell nods past Peltonen to make it 0-1 (photo via YLE)

There were plenty of challenges, Rexhepi went in heavy on Sorsa, while Baah made a tremendous tackle on Rasmus Schüller. Palazuelos had a long shot deflected over, but another hefty check by Rexhepi (already on a yellow card) gave away a free kick from which Schüller coolly scored into the bottom corner.

Rasmus Schüller celebrates (photo via www.hjk.fi)

Sub Joel Pohjanpalo (on for Forssell) had a chance to make it three in injury time, but the game finished 0-2 to HJK. There was some controversy at the end, as Honka's Yaghoubi gave the travelling supporters the finger. The highest attendance so far (3492 people) witnessed a proficient HJK, but Honka showed signs of life, despite another defeat which leaves them bottom.

Highlights of Honka 0-2 HJK 

We finally have a full weekend of league football, and we move onto the Suomen Cup sixth round.

Apologies for the length of the blog, feel free to provide feedback or suggestions. I've taken some on board from 2012, with more photo credits and links. If you would like to contribute media, let me know and I'll be extremely grateful.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 1 - TPS open with win, Mariehamn make history

It's been nearly six months since the end of last season, and we were threatened with an even longer wait for hostilities to resume - three of the six fixtures in the opening weekend were postponed due to snow and ice. In April. Those hoping to tune in to FC Inter v HJK will need to wait until May 2nd, while VPS v Lahti and JJK v Jaro have been moved to July 31st.

So the matches that took place this weekend - starting with last year's bronze medallists TPS playing Suomen Cup holders Honka. The match was due to take place at the Veritas Stadion, but had to move to a municipal artificial pitch.

Honka and TPS line up (photo Juho Tervala)

Because of the venue change, there was no live match coverage so those other than the 1250 paying customers have had to rely on YouTube and press reports... By all accounts, the first half was fairly even - both teams with some half-chances, and Honka keeper Tuomas Peltonen making a good save after a goalmouth scramble.

In the second half, a rather reckless tackle by Honka's Ghanaian defender Gideon Baah raised tempers significantly, several players from both teams weighed in, while Honka's Henri Aalto received a second yellow card for his involvement. 59 minutes in, the first red card of the season.

Honka new boys Rubén Palazuelos and Abdoulaye Méïté get stuck in (photo YLE)

The incident pushed the game in favour of the hosts, and it took nine minutes for TPS to take advantage of the extra man, but it was a splendid strike from outside the box from former Honka midfielder Duarte Tammilehto that opened the scoring. Tammilehto left Honka in the winter after a dispute over unpaid wages (he and HJK new boy Tapio Heikkilä cancelled their contracts, a decision upheld by the Finnish FA), and has already made an impact for his new club. TPS scored their second goal on 80 minutes, another strike from the edge of the area, this time from Petteri Pennanen.

Tammilehto (right) celebrates the opener (photo Sari Gustafsson)

TPS are many people's tip to finish runners-up in 2013, so this was a good start. Honka are an unknown quantity - they lost two of their most promising young players for free, but have brought in experienced players in Méïté and Palazuelos. Some good youngsters remain, but it may be a while before we get an idea of what Honka 2013 will be. In the #Ligatipset2013 contest run by YLE's Antti Koivukangas, I tipped TPS for second and Honka for fifth. Watch this space...

Highlights of TPS 2-0 FC Honka

Sunday saw two games, in Kuopio and Rovaniemi. The northern-most club in Finland managed to get their game on (they have an artificial pitch), and as discussed in my previous article about travelling to away games, IFK Mariehamn had quite the journey. Five hours by boat, and fourteen hours by train. As was pointed out by Janne Oivio, the away team had never won this fixture.

In the end, the visitors broke that hoodoo in style. Despite losing their top scorer Aleksei Kangaskolkka in the winter, they went 0-2 ahead with goals from Mattias Wiklöf and Diego Assis. RoPS striker Boris Kokko pulled one back, but an injury time goal from on-loan Petteri Forsell guaranteed the win.

Forsell is on loan from Turkish side Bursaspor until August (photo Pekka Aho)

Kokko had promised to score in each league match this season, and will no doubt be ticking them off... But the trip back to Åland will be three points better off. Forsell joked after the game about being offered sausages and kebabs by the home supporters, so he'll have something to eat on the way home. This was the first game back in the Veikkausliiga for RoPS after their promotion, and they'll be hoping to take advantage of a bonus home game next weekend against Lahti (switched due to ice in Lahti).


Sunday's other match was between KuPS and MYPA at the Savon Sanomat Areena in front of the weekend's highest crowd at 1801. The game was always likely to go ahead, despite heavy snow making some of the seating areas out-of-bounds. KuPS gave debuts to new signings Omar Colley (already looking like an excellent signing), Jussi Kajala, Dawda Bah and captain Rami Hakanpää, while HJK's on-loan midfielder Emerik Grönroos started in the MYPA midfield.

The MYPA fans go wild (photo Vartaloharhautus)

A goalless first half saw few incidents, but the 18-year-old Grönroos was very impressive, and KuPS keeper Mika Hilander made some decent saves. The second half saw Ilja Venäläinen foul MYPA forward Pekka Sihvola in the box, and Sihvola stepped up and eventually scored the resulting penalty after 58 minutes. Antti Hynynen equalised on 69 minutes, after some penalty box pinball, with a nice finish at the second attempt.

Antti Hynynen's equaliser on it's way (photo Vartaloharhautus)

Both teams had chances to win the game (Voutilainen for KuPS, and Sihvola for MYPA), but the keepers did their jobs, and the match finished 1-1.

Highlights of KuPS 1-1 MYPA

After KuPS tenth place in 2012, a home draw is a slightly disappointing result, but a point is a point. MYPA finished sixth last season, and have started 2013 with a very similar team. Neither is in Europe this season, so at least there'll be no extra midweek distractions.

So that was a reduced week one, but a nice start to the season with eight goals, one red card and some interesting cameos from new faces. Next week should see a full programme of fixtures, watch this space for updates.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Long distance Veikkausliiga - how far between the clubs?

In the arrival of a new season, the weather is causing grief and the usual arguments about the use of artificial turf are rife. But we're also welcoming back RoPS (Rovaniemi Palloseura), who play 5km south of the Arctic Circle. Their opening 2013 fixture is at home to IFK Mariehamn this Sunday.

Mariehamn player Patrick Byskata tweeted on Saturday that they had spent five hours on a boat (just to get to the mainland) then fourteen hours on a train - just to get to the game, along with the return journey. Not quite planes, trains and automobiles, but not far away.

The IFK Mariehamn bench at Rovaniemi

So I've put together a table of the distances between each city (not each team's home stadium), so we can see roughly how far the away side needs to travel. The shown distance is accepted as the most suitable land/sea transport, not as the crow flies, using Free Map Tools. Obviously TPS to Inter is zero... All distances shown are in kilometres.

Click to enlarge

I'll let you pick out which numbers are of interest - Honka (Espoo) to HJK (Helsinki) is the nearest at 21km.

A couple of talking points - Janne Oivio pointed out that in previous league meetings between IFK Mariehamn and RoPS, the away team has never won. The other raises the question about the league structure: Because the teams play three matches, this increases the advantage of the team which plays at home twice, in 2013 is it IFK Mariehamn who will have to make the journey twice.

To give this some relevance to English football fans, the longest trip between current league clubs is Newcastle to Plymouth at 657km.

There's no opinions here, just chucking some numbers at you. But you can see why the Kakkonen is split into geographical areas. I'm looking forward to seeing RoPS' home record at the end of the season.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Does the Veikkausliiga need changing?

Quite the debate has been raging over the winter, on Twitter and in the media. Does the Finnish league need to evolve to compete? The matter has reached the mainstream on Sunday, where Veikkausliiga CEO Timo Marjamaa's comments about providing more meaningful domestic games was discussed on YLE.

Marjamaa's theory is that if the league is to improve (in comparison to other European leagues), then the Veikkausliiga matches need to be at a higher level, that the games are more meaningful, and that the players are developed as a result.

But to what end does the league need to change? In 2011, the league moved from a straight 14-team, 28-game league, to a 12-team, 33-match division. The current structure is inconsistent, and while it's financially advantageous (more games to earn money), it's unusual and can be accused of being advantageous to certain teams.

KuPS fans watch from above the snow (photo via Vartaloharhautus)

The climate is the major obstacle to an extension of the season - April to October is fine when the weather is fine, but it's still snowing in April, to the point where KuPS are looking for volunteers to help clear snow in the stands prior to the season opener against MYPA. Not every club can afford to install artificial turf, and even when they do, there's no guarantee that it's perfect. The synthetic turf at MYPA's home didn't cope well with being heated, to the point the turf raised 50cm off the ground in places.

The Kymenlaakson Sähkö Stadion turf resembling a golf course in March

So what are the alternatives? Playing within six summer months is restrictive, but here are some of the other alternative league structures used in Europe. Bear in mind most of these formats are used in the winter...

Poland (current UEFA ranking 21st)

The Polish Ekstraklasa has recently announced a change for the 2013-14 season. Sixteen clubs will play each other twice, then split into two sections of eight. Each team will play seven matches, and start with half of their already accrued points. Each team will finish the season playing 37 matches, and the likely scenario that 9th will have more points than 8th.

Belgium (10th)

The Jupiler Pro League also has 16 sides, and after the thirty matches, it gets confusing. The top six enter play-off 1, play each other twice, the top team wins the league. Teams 7-14 enter play-off 2 (split into two groups of four), and the winners of each group play each other over two legs for a chance to play the team which finished 4th or 5th in play-off one, with the winner getting a Europa League place. A bit too complicated I think.

Scotland (24th)

Twelve teams play in the Scottish Premier League, and the teams play their rivals three times. After 33 matches, the league splits into two. The SPL seeds teams in a way that they are likely to play teams twice at home and twice away. Again, the team in 7th is likely end with more points than 6th. There are currently steps to restructure the whole league set-up, but the clubs cannot come to an agreement at this time.


Obviously the Veikkausliiga will start this coming weekend as planned. But it seems the discussions on how to improve the structure will roll on. Finland are currently ranked 33rd by UEFA - not far from 32nd (Azerbaijan), but a long way behind Georgia in 31st.

I don't think expanding the top division would work, certainly to more than 14 teams. The gulf between top and bottom appears to be large enough already. A play-off at the end of the season would certainly bring some drama, but would make a mockery of the 'marathon not a sprint' ethos. A team consistently better over the season could lose the title to a team who hit a freak patch of good form.

It's hard to judge a league other than performances in Europe. Last season's Finnish competitiors all got through at least one round, but mostly against teams from weaker leagues. As Scotland show, even one team outperforming the others only goes so far (Celtic reached the last 16 this year).

Friday, April 05, 2013

The 2013 Liigacup final - Lahti v JJK

Saturday sees the 17th edition of the Liigacup eventually reach it's final - the competition which began in Lahti on 16th January comes full circle with the final in Lahti on 6th April. The twelve Veikkausliiga clubs have duked it out, and we end up with a rematch of the opening game of the tournament.

Group 1 opened with Lahti playing JJK at Kisapuisto in temperatures of -10c, and ended in a goalless draw.

Photo of the first match between Lahti and JJK in January

The second match between the two clubs also took place in Kisapuisto on 5th February, with JJK the home team. It also ended in a draw, Olli Tynkkynen opened the scoring for Lahti before Eero Markkanen equalised. 

 Taken during the second match (photo by Maalipotku)

Group one ended with TPS as group winners, while Lahti were runners-up and JJK were one of the best third place sides.

Lahti defeated group 3 winners RoPS 1-0 in the quarter-finals, then thoroughly beat KuPS 3-0 in the semi-finals.

JJK surprised most by defeating HJK on penalties in the last eight (after a 0-0 draw), then defeated TPS on penalties (again after a 0-0 draw) to reach the final.

The first silverware is up for grabs this weekend, and while it may not give a precise indication of what is to come, the glory is in the trophy. The last Liigacup winner to finish the league season in first place was FC Inter in 2008. But both teams will be looking to put a marker down for the season, and what better way than with a trophy.

The prize for Saturday's winners


Lahti have played five matches in the Liigacup, scoring 8 goals and conceding 3.
JJK have played five matches and scored 7 goals and conceded five, all in the group stage.

The final is being played in Lahti, due to Lahti having the better group stage record.

Lahti have won the Liigacup once, in 2007 they defeated Inter on penalties in the final after a 0-0 draw. JJK reached the final in 2011, but lost to Honka in Espoo (after another 0-0 draw).

JJK's top scorer in the competition is Eero Marrkanen with four goals (including a hat-trick against Inter). Lahti's top scorers are Olli Tynkkynen and Loorents Hertsi with two goals each.

At the time of writing, Lahti are even money to win in 90 minutes with Unibet, while JJK are 5/2 against.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Liverpool v OPS (October 1980) - the programme

We continue the vintage programme reviews with our first club match, and it's a big one from 1980. Finnish champions Oulun Palloseura (OPS) visited European giants Liverpool at Anfield in the second leg of their first round tie. The first match in Finland ended 1-1, a late equaliser from Seppo Puotiniemi earning OPS a draw. We'll tell you how the second leg ended later on.

As programmes go, this is a world away from the internationals with England and Scotland in the mid-70s. The 'Anfield Review' sold for 30p, but is much nearer to the matchday magazines of today. There are 28 pages, but no colour other than the excessive pink and red throughout. The second leg took place two weeks after the first, so there are plenty of features and photographs.

The inside cover immediately throws at you Liverpool's array of trophies, at the time they had 12 league titles, 2 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and 2 FA Cups (they won their first of eight league cups that season). There are also small pieces by Chairman John W. Smith and manager Bob Paisley. The coach mentions the difficulty in playing 'supposedly weak opposition', but gave OPS a back-handed compliment in how they battled on a small and rutted pitch.

There is a feature about the Liverpool fans who travelled to Finland - all six of them (three from Birkenhead, one each from Netherton, Bootle and Ashton). By all accounts, it was quite the voyage in the days before low cost airlines. The 132 hour round trip started after Liverpool's previous home game with West Brom, ended in Oulu, and went directly to Southampton for Liverpool's next game at the Dell. The cost? £114 each.

It's on the page 6-7 spread that we meet OPS - an informal squad photo. Retro kit afficionados will appreciate the Hummel kits and Adidas football boots.

The writer of the section below reminds us of how OPS won their previous league title, narrowly edging out KuPS, and there is a laugh at how a 'mere 800' people turned up for a match between the league and cup winners, yet 14,000 attended the first leg against Liverpool.

After a reminder of Liverpool's record in European fixtures, pages 10-11 bombard us. Features on the two British players based in Oulu (Scotsman Hugh Smith and Englishman Keith Armstrong - who went on to be a key figure in Finnish football), young marker Leo Houtsonen and a strong defence compete for attention.

The Brits had previously played together in Hong Kong, and the piece is quite sure they were more likely to return to the Far East than play in England... Not a lot of information is known about Smith (feel free to let me know if you can help!), but Armstrong continues to be involved in Finland. While he never did return to England, he played for a variety of Finnish clubs until 1992, while he has won the Veikkausliiga as a coach with Haka and HJK. He is currently sporting director at Ykkönen club SJK.

OPS's banking on their strong defence refers to their strong defensive record, conceding 25 goals in 29 matches in the previous season. A quick profile of their players follows, and refers to Olympic team striker Juhani Himanka. Leo Houtsonen had apparently spent a week trialing with Norwich City. We're also reminded that "All the OPS players, of course, are part-timers".

The next pages are a 'player parade', with pen pics of each squad memeber. A fine collection of traditional looking Finns, but unlike a number of 1980 photos, there were no outrageous haircuts of facial hair.

A photo gallery of the first leg takes four pages, and we see a photo of future manager Kenny Dalglish in the cockpit, along with the pre-match band.

Pages 16-17 have two photos of the Liverpool goal, scored by Terry McDermott, hidden away in the masses.

There's a European quiz on pages 20-21, sample questions include 'how many British clubs have been in the final of the European Cup, and can you name them?', and 'where is this season's European Cup final to be staged?'. The answers were: Five (Celtic, Manchester United, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest), and Paris.

Liverpool man Jim Kennefick, whose general brief according to Alan Hansen was 'handled the club's travel plans', has a page to himself and his viewpoint. Luckily it's not too controversial, he is grateful to OPS chairman Matti Heikkinen for their city tour, and such sights as 'a large power station'.

Jim also talks about how Liverpool took a large selection of LFC merchandise with them to Oulu, and sold all of it. The column gives a patronising pat on the head to the Oulu players, "what a great bonus it must be for their team to visit Anfield". Hmm.

The final page has the teams for the match, with a selection of household names for the home side, along with the details of the Icelandic officials. The scoreboard has the other fixtures around Europe that evening, with some big clubs involved - Real Madrid v Limerick, Ajax v Dinamo Tirana and Bayern Munich v Olympiakos.

And so to the match itself - and a landslide it was. Liverpool won 10-1 (11-2 on aggregate), and there were hat-tricks for Graeme Souness and McDermott, a brace for David Fairclough, and goals for Ray Kennedy and Sammy Lee. OPS did pull it back to 4-1 with a goal from Armstrong, but it was all in vain.

Liverpool went on to win their third European Cup that season, defeating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Paris final through a goal from Alan Kennedy.

The highlights of Liverpool 10-1 OPS are as below.

We hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, the next in the series will be the international between Wales and Finland from 2003.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Veikkausliiga 2013: New year, (some) new kits

With the dawn of the new league season, it's time for an updated fashion parade. The spring/summer 2013 line is here, and here are the models, in alphabetical order.

FC Honka

Tim Väyrynen stayed at the club, but so did the kit - Honka have retained the same Umbro jersey for 2013, and will be wearing it in the Europa League.

FC Inter

New signing Tamás Gruborovics shows off his new colours, as worn by Inter Milan. A new collar, standard Nike teamwear.

FC Lahti

Tommi Kari is so hot right now, but the Lahti kit remains a 2012 vintage.

FF Jaro

Shahdon Winchester has already scored several goals for his new club, and the Middlesbrough-esque outfit may yet suit him.


The returning Forssell shows a new collar, yet to be covered in sponsor logos. Will it be seen in the Champions League?

IFK Mariehamn

Jamaican forward Alonzo Adlam again sporting a 2012 model by Puma.


JJK's team photos didn't show much kit, but here it is. After a Facebook vote to move away from blue and claret stripes for 2013, this is the winner.


Dawda Bah returned to Finland this January. KuPS have changed their shirt sponsor to insurance company LähiTapiola, but the jersey remains the same Puma effort.


MYPA have changed their jersey to the same template as KuPS for 2013, as modelled by Elias Inkilä.


A very cold looking Faith Obilor shows RoPS kit, again the same as 2012. Under-jumper not included...


English midfielder Wayne Brown models the TPS shirt for 2013. Needless to say, the replica with fewer sponsors probably looks better.


VPS captain Sebastian Strandvall in VPS colours. A sponsor-heavy Nike effort, as seen in last week's Suomen Cup win over local rivals VIFK.

These are what the players will be wearing - will any become collector's items? We know some of the British kit nerds will be judging closely.