Friday, June 28, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 16: Lahti make it three, as does Jolle

Another round of fixtures this midweek to take us almost up to the halfway point... Here's a brief summary of all six matches.

IFK Mariehamn 0-5 HJK

HJK's kit and equipment was late turning up - but the team started early and saw the benefits of an early goal.

It was Joel Pohjanpalo who opened the scoring - nodding in a cross from close range. Moren doubled the score four minutes later, following up after Enckelman saved a free kick. Rasmus Schüller scored a third midway through the second half, before Pohjanpalo slotted a fourth away with seven minutes left, before completing a perfect hat-trick (head, right foot, left foot) in the 87th minute.

Pohjanpalo was disappointed he didn't get to use the whole hand (photo via HJK.fi)

It was Jolle's second Veikkausliiga hat-trick, his second against IFK Mariehamn, and his second perfect hat-trick. Note the theme. Bayer Leverkusen will do well to snap him up sooner rather than later, as this will only alert several other clubs.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 0-5 HJK

HJK retain their lead at the top of the table, with thirty points from 16 games. IFK Mariehamn are fifth, with 24 points from 16 matches.

Lahti 1-0 Inter

Lahti took the field in white, dedicated one of their former identities FC Kuusysi. The change in colours (they wore Reipas orange & black against JJK) appears to have brought them good luck, and this was a third win in a row.

Hertsi bears down on Inter keeper Koponen (photo via Elias Lahtinen)

The game was settled early, courtesy of a coolly taken penalty by Brazilian striker Rafael. It was his third goal in as many games, and it won the points for his side. Inter also lost substitute Pim Bouwman to a red card late in the game.


Highlights of Lahti 1-0 Inter

Lahti are still eleventh, but now have fifteen points from fifteen games, and are catching Inter. The visitors leave with seventeen points from 16 games, and have now failed to score in six league matches.

RoPS 0-1 Honka

Honka had to rely on another injury time winner to beat RoPS, but it kept them level at the top with HJK - and condemned RoPS to a first home defeat since the opening day.

Kastrati battles for the ball (photo via Pekka Aho)

A 95th minute winner from Jussi Vasara meant Honka's long journey to Espoo was three points heavier, albeit they lost Nnaemeka Anyamele to a red card. RoPS have now gone six games without a win, and are starting to look nervous.

Highlights of RoPS 0-1 Honka

Honka are second, level on points with HJK but with an inferior goal difference of ten goals. They have thirty points from sixteen games. RoPS are ninth, with seventeen points from sixteen games.

VPS 1-0 JJK

Just like the famous Arsenal team of the 90s, VPS seem to be attempting to 1-0 their win to success... This was their fourth 1-0 win of the season, and they still only conceded nine goals. This goal was from Jarno Parikka after 23 minutes, chipping in after a sharp through ball.

Of long-term worry to VPS was the injury to midfielder Anthony Dafaa, who had to go off in the second half. Early indications are that it could be serious. For JJK, they still only have two wins this season, and are in danger of being left behind Lahti after their recent wins.

Highlights of VPS 1-0 JJK

VPS are still third, and still a point behind HJK. They have 29 points from their fifteen games. JJK are twelth, with ten points from fifteen games.

Jaro 2-0 MYPA

Jaro's decent season returned to winning ways with an impressive win over a MYPA side who appear to be drifting away. They took the lead midway through the first half, Igor Jovanovic heading in from a free kick. Trinidad & Tobago striker Shahdon Winchester sealed the win with three minutes left (the goal wasn't on the highlights due to technical difficulties).

Highlights of Jaro 2-0 MYPA

Jaro move up to sixth place, with 22 points from fifteen games. MYPA are seventh, with 20 points from fifteen - they've lost their last three league games.

TPS 0-0 KuPS

Just like Jaro's Jesse Öst on Monday, an away goalkeeper was the hero here. KuPS stand-in keeper Joonas Pöntinen was the saviour, making a number of key saves to salvage a point for the visitors. KuPS were down to ten men after 30mins after Gambian defender Omar Colley was dismissed for a professional foul, bringing down Mikko Hyyrynen when through on goal - that was Colley's second red card of the season.


Highlights of TPS 0-0 KuPS

TPS lose ground on the leaders, they're in fourth place and have 25 points from 15 games. KuPS are eighth, with 19 points from 16 games.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Introducing Nõmme Kalju - HJK's European opponents

This Monday, HJK learned who they would face in the second qualifying round of the Champions League - Estonian champions Nõmme Kalju. The matches will be played on Wednesday 17th July in Helsinki, and on Tuesday 23rd July in Tallinn.

Friend of the site Angelo Palmeri, who writes about Estonian football for the Tere Italia website, has written a piece about HJK's opponents so we can learn a little more about the ties.  


Nõmme Kalju have become Estonian champions for the first time last year when they managed to clinch their first title finishing nine points clear ahead of Levadia and eleven ahead of Flora, the two clubs who normally have been disputing and winning most of the titles since Independence. Nõmme Kalju have been able to break the Levadia-Flora duopoly thanks to the effort made by owner, the entrepreneur Kuno Tehva (among others, he is the owner of a popular night club in Tallinn, 'Prive´, where last year players celebrated their title after an open-bus ride in the city).

The policy of the club has been quite clear: picking up the best Estonian players available with already a certain experience on their shoulders and matching them up with a foreign legion of players coming from many different countries, usually quite young and looking for achievement elsewhere in minor leagues.

Since being promoted to Meistriliiga in 2007 (the Estonian top flight, now called Premium Liiga) they started signing a lot of foreign players, mostly unknown. All started with a a big Brazilian troupe brought in by former head coach Getulio Fredo (he is now an assistant coach who holds double nationality: Brazilian and Finnish, he is married to a Finn and he´s been working for many years in the Finnish football world) which featured also 2008 Meistriliiga top-scorer, Felipe Nunes. Since last season the Estonian Football Federation (EJL) has approved a new rule meant to limit the number of non-EU players used during a game, it was probably meant to limit the influence of the Nõmme Kalju policy over the league results.

Clashes between Nõmme Kalju and EJL are not new, as the EJL President (Aivar Pohlak) is also the FC Flora president-founder and this has always brought a lot of controversy over a possible interests conflict within Estonian football. It has become quite famous an exchange of e-mails between Kuno Tehva and Aivar Pohlak where the latter litterally told him to go to hell using the F-word.

The aim of Nõmme Kalju, since promotion, has always been to win the league. It eventually happened only last season as the one before they ended up second behind the most successful club FC Flora. They didn´t manage to add silverware to their cabinet this season as they lost the Supercup final to Levadia (3-0) and the cup final to Flora last May (3-1) after poor performances which highlighted their difficulties in playing a ninety minute decider.


Nõmme Kalju's trademark has always been 4-2-3-1, however this season Igor Prins (head coach since last year) has also tried a 4-4-2 formation putting up front the two big strikers (renamed ´the twin towers´, Voskoboinikov and Neemelo) and making their Japanese star (Hidetoshi Wakui) playing further from the opposition box. This setup has penalized the offensive capabilities of the team, as they're unable to develop flank games with Italian Damiano Quintieri and Frech Allan Kimbaloula (he gave up to a call at Norwich academy to take on the Estonian challenge at Kalju). Wakui has also been suffering from more defensive work and eventually he picked up an injury which has reduced his performances (he scored 8 goals in the first 7 games, now he only contributed with 1 in 6 games).

The difficulties experienced up front and in the middle have also had repercussions on defence, as Kalju have conceded 12 goals in 16 games, whereas last year they were a total of seventeen during the whole season. The goalkeeper, Vitali Teleś, is not always 100% confident of what he is doing, especially on long distance shots and this has made the defence very shaky.

If coach Prins will finally focus on 4-2-3-1 in the build-up to the qualifying game, the usual line-up should be: 
Teles
Kallaste – Koogas – Barengrüb – Siśov
Puri – Ceesay
Kimbaloula – Wakui – Quintieri
Neemelo

Prins usually switches Neemelo with Voskoboinikov and brings in Toomet for Quintieri and/or Dupikov for Kimbaloula as usual changes, however the line-up stays more or less the same.

Demba Savage will square up with country fellow Yankuba Ceesay. Ceesay has the honour of being the first Gambian player being signed as professional in Latin America (he signed for Atletico Peru before coming to Estonia), and has gained the nickname  ´Ceesaster´ since poor performance in last year's tie against Khazar Lankaran in the Europa League when Kalju lost 0-2 at Kadriorg Park Stadium. He is very physical and this leads him to commit fouls easily in the middle. Over the last season he has slightly improved, and he has also been often seen in the box for finishing reasons (headers mainly) however the results have been poor in terms of close chances.

The team also features former KuPS player Sander Puri´s twin brother Eino; and left-back, Ken Kallaste, son of the legendary Risto Kallaste, the flip-thrown in performer of the Estonia team of the 90s (interview here). Captain is central defender Alo Barengrüb who said his model is Fabio Cannavaro. Alo is also a good scorers on headers, and can be see often running up to the opposition box for corners.

Skipper Alo Barengrüb

Overall, HJK is considered a good draw from Nõmme Kalju perspective, considering that Celtic and Legia Warsaw were avoided. Good because they will be facing a club from a similar football realm and they will not have to take a big trip which will also help local fans travelling to Helsinki (not to mention the many thousands of Estonians living there who might go to show their support).

The question is whether it will be harder for Kalju to face HJK themselves or Kalju´s own flaws: little continental experience (six games in Europa League preliminaries brought 3 defeats and 3 draws), a poor start to the season mostly in terms of game displayed than table achievements (in the end they are just placed second - two points clear of Levadia during a season that has proved levelled for all top Estonian clubs fighting for the title – the latter of three being FC Flora) and finally the formation doubts shown by Prins from game to game. 

Form of key-players (Wakui especially) will be also important for this tie. Prins has declared to Estonian online paper Õhtuleht: "I think HJK are hoping to go past this round very quickly and start to prepare already for the next one. Our task will be to make their lives possibly harder. However, first of all, I have to concentrate on our team because the way we have played so far it´s not even enough against anyone in the Champions League. We have three weeks to fix things." 

Thinking about Jari Litmanen being linked with both clubs (he has a house in Nõmme district in Tallinn and their children attend regularly academy training at Nõmme Kalju facilities), Prins is quite sure "In the end he is Finnish, so I am sure he will support HJK in this challenge."

The venue of the game in Tallinn should be Kariorg Park Stadium, since last season it has been Nõmme Kalju's home pitch. The real home stadium would be Hiiu Stadioon, however the artificial turf has been replaced only recently with a 2-star UEFA quality as the bad quality of the previous turf compelled Kalju to change home. They will move back there for the Premium Liiga games however, due to limited attendance possibilities the game will mostly take place in Kadriorg Soviet-time built stadium.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 15 - HJK thwarted, Inter blank

After a break for Midsummer, and the excitement of the draw for European competition, domestic football returned on Monday evening. A low scoring round, but important in the shape of the league table.

Honka 2-0 MYPA

Fresh from drawing Lech Poznan in the Europa League qualifiers, Honka moved back to joint top of the table, but they left it late against resolute MYPA.

Honka celebrate

A fortuitous goal from Tim Väyrynen after 77 minutes, and a 92nd minute strike from Kastriot Kastrarti, moved Honka level with HJK, and condemned MYPA to a second consecutive win, and a third game without a win.

Highlights of Honka 2-0 MYPA

Honka are now second, albeit level on points with HJK. They have 27 points from 15 games, and a goal difference of +3. MYPA are sixth, fourteen points from 20 games.

HJK 0-0 Jaro

HJK lost a chance to retain a clear lead at the top, thanks in part to an inspired performance from Jaro keeper Jesse Öst. The HJK players were astounded at how Öst kept them at bay, and frustated them. HJK's Nikolai Alho said after the game "Its not even physically possible to miss so many chances in 90 mins."

Öst thwarts Pohjanpalo

A number of brave, agile and sharp saves kept Jaro in the game - and while HJK will kick themselves, every so often a goalie has a game like that, and they'll have to live with it. But of greater concern, is that HJK only have eleven points from 8 home matches this year.

Highlights of HJK 0-0 Jaro

HJK are still top, only on goal difference. They have 27 points from fifteen games, a GD of +13. Jaro are seventh, with nineteen points from 14 matches.

Inter 0-2 IFK Mariehamn

Inter's struggle's continue - five games now without a goal. A stunning goal from Niko Kukka after thirteen minutes, was followed by another goal for top scorer Dever Orgill just before the break. Mariehamn's Patrick Byskata received a straight red card for hacking at Pim Bouwman with 15 minutes to go, but the game ended 0-2.

Highlights of Inter 0-2 IFK Mariehamn

FC Inter are tenth in the table, with seventeen points from fifteen games. Mariehamn are up to fourth, with 24 points from fifteen matches.

JJK 1-1 TPS

A point gained for JJK, two lost for a TPS side that could have gone a point from the top. A smart finish from Mikko Hyyrynen after thirteen minutes was equalised by a penalty from Jordi van Gelderen.

van Gelderen takes a tumble (photo via Marko Kauko)

Highlights of JJK 1-1 TPS

That result means JJK are now adrift at the bottom, with ten points from fourteen games. TPS are fifth, with 24 points from their 14 matches - although only three points behind HJK and Honka.

KuPS 0-1 Lahti

Lahti strung two wins in a row together for the first time since September - and sentenced KuPS to a depressing defeat. Brazilian striker Rafael scored on a Lahti counter-attack after 37 minutes, and it was the only goal of the game.

Rafael celebrates (photo via Vartaloharhautus)

Highlights of KuPS 0-1 Lahti

KuPS are eighth in the table, with eighteen points from fifteen matches. Lahti have twelve points from 14 games, and are eleventh - just five points behind Inter.

RoPS 0-0 VPS 

VPS missed a chance to go top after drawing a blank at RoPS, who extended their unbeaten home record to six matches.

Bundle! (Photo via Pekka Aho)

 
Highlights of RoPS 0-0 VPS

RoPS are ninth in the table, with seventeen points from fifteen games. VPS are third, 26 points from 14 games, only one point behind HJK and Honka.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Finnish clubs in Europe - who can they play?

Just 30 days after European football for 2012/13 ended with Bayern Munich lifting the European Cup in London, UEFA bring continental club football back to our focus with the draws for the first and qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League.

The hood from the Thunderbirds gets busy

In 2012, Finnish clubs had mixed fortunes - all the Finnish entries to the Europa League won at least one tie, with KuPS making it to the third qualifying round, losing to Bursaspor. HJK got through their second qualifying round tie, but lost to Celtic, before then losing to Athletic Bilbao after dropping into the Europa League.

So in Monday's draw, who could the Finnish clubs draw?

Champions League

HJK Helsinki are competing in the European Cup for the fourth consecutive season, and again enter at the second qualifying round. In each of the previous three editions, they've got past round two, but been eliminated at round three.

Last year's winners Bayern Munich

HJK are seeded in the second round, and their matches will be on the 16/17th and 23rd/24th July. Losing in this round will mean total elimination from Europe.

Second qualifying round

Seeded: BATE Borisov (Belarus), Celtic (Scotland), Steaua Bucureşti (Romania), Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Rep), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Partizan Belgrade (Serbia), Legia Warszawa (Poland), Sheriff (Moldova), NK Maribor (Slovenia), Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia), IF Elfsborg (Sweden), Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel), Molde FK (Norway), HJK Helsinki (Finland), FK Ekranas (Lithuania), Neftçi PFK (Azerbaijan), Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia).

Unseeded: Željezničar Sarajevo (Bosnia), FH (Iceland), Győr (Hungary), The New Saints (Wales), Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria), Sligo Rovers (Ireland), Shakhter Karagandy (Kazakhstan), Skënderbeu (Albania), Birkirkara (Malta), Vardar Skopje (Macedonia), Cliftonville (Northern Ireland), Daugava Daugavpils (Latvia), Sutjeska (Montenegro), Nõmme Kalju (Estonia), CS Fola Esch (Luxembourg).

The two clubs who win in the first round - EB Streymur (Faroes), Tre Penne (San Marino), FC Lusitans (Andorra) or FC Shirak (Armenia) - will also be unseeded.

The draw starts at 1100 BST on Monday. Next year's final will be played in Lisbon.

Europa League

Slightly different - Inter Turku and TPS are seeded in round one, while Fair Play entrants IFK Mariehamn are unseeded. Suomen Cup winners Honka enter in round two, and they will be unseeded.

Last year's winners Chelsea (they know what they are)

The Finnish clubs can't play each other, while Inter and TPS will be unseeded if they make it through to round two. Last year there was an element of regional draws, but UEFA haven't confirmed if this is the case for 2013. The first round is played on 4/11th July, the second round on 18/25th July.

I'll list the seeded and unseeded clubs for each round. There are a lot of names... The winners in the first round effectively take the seeding of their opponent in the following round.

First qualifying round

Seeded: Rosenborg BK (Norway), MŠK Žilina (Slovakia), Levski Sofia (Bulgaria), CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria), Videoton (Hungary), Ventspils (Latvia), Tromsø (Norway), Aktobe (Kazakhstan), Dinamo Minsk (Belarus), St Patrick's Athletic (Ireland), Qarabağ (Azerbaijan), Vojvodina (Serbia), Malmö FF (Sweden), Sarajevo (Bosnia), Astra Ploieşti (Romania), KR Reykjavík (Iceland), F91 Dudelange (Luxembourg), Inter Turku (Finland), Dacia Chisinau (Moldova), Levadia Tallinn (Estonia), Linfield (Northern Ireland), Honvéd (Hungary), Valletta FC (Malta), Differdange 03 (Luxembourg), Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia), Gefle IF (Sweden), FC Pyunik (Armenia), HŠK Zrinjski (Bosnia), İnter Bakı PİK (Azerbaijan), Skonto Riga (Latvia), FK Sūduva (Lithuania), FC Vaduz (Liechtenstein), Flora Tallinn (Estonia), Xäzär Länkäran FK (Azerbaijan), HB Tórshavn (Faroes), Rudar Pljevlja (Montenegro), TPS (Finland), Breidablik (Iceland).

Unseeded: NK Domžale (Slovenia), Glentoran (Northern Ireland), Metalurg Skopje (Macedonia), Milsami Orhei (Moldova), NK Celje (Slovenia), Torpedo Kutaisi (Georgia), Teteks (Macedonia), Irtysh Pavlodar (Kazakhstan), Jeunesse Esch (Luxembourg), Crusaders (Northern Ireland), Santa Coloma (Andorra), Chikhura Sachkhere (Georgia), VMFD Žalgiris (Lithuania), IFK Mariehamn (Finland), FC Mika (Armenia), ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar (ISL), Čelik Nikšić (Montenegro), Sliema Wanderers (Malta), Hibernians (Malta), Tiraspol (Moldova), Drogheda United (Ireland), Trans Narva (Estonia), Gandzasar (Armenia), Kruoja (Lithuania), Astana (Kazakhstan), KF Laçi (Albania), KS Teuta (Albania), Víkingur (Faroes), Mladost Podgorica (Montenegro), FK Turnovo (Macedonia), Santa Coloma (Andorra), FK Kukësi (Albania), ÍF Fuglafjørdur (Faroes), Bala Town (Wales), Broughton FC/Airbus UK (Wales), Prestatyn Town (Wales), SP La Fiorita (San Marino), AC Libertas (San Marino).

Second qualifying round 

Seeded: Rubin Kazan (Russia), Standard Liège (Belgium), Hapoel Tel-Aviv (Israel), Sparta Praha (Czech Rep), Lech Poznań (Poland), Trabzonspor (Turkey), Aalborg BK (Denmark), Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus), Utrecht (Holland), Maccabi Haifa (Israel), Sturm Graz (Austria), Omonia (Cyprus), Chornomorets Odesa (Ukraine), Debreceni (Hungary), Hajduk Split (Croatia), Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), Slovan Liberec (Czech Rep), FC Thun (Switzerland), Śląsk Wrocław (Poland), Xanthi FC (Greece), Shakhtyor Soligorsk (Belarus), IFK Göteborg (Sweden), HNK Rijeka (Croatia), FC Minsk (Belarus), Petrolul Ploieşti (Romania), Pandurii Târgu Jiu (Romania).

Unseeded: FK Senica (Slovakia), GKS Piast Gliwice (Poland), Häcken (Sweden), Hibernian (Scotland), Lokomotiva Zagreb (Croatia), Strømsgodset IF (Norway), FC Honka (Finland), Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia), St Johnstone (Scotland), Beroe Stara Zagora (Bulgaria), Dila Gori (Georgia), NK Široki Brijeg (Bosnia), Jagodina (Serbia), AS Trenčín (Slovakia), IL Hødd (Norway), Derry City (Ireland).

The draw starts at 1200 BST on Monday. Next year's final will be played in Turin.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 14 - Lahti off the bottom

Here's a quick review of Wednesday's Veikkausliiga matches, before the break for Juhannus (midsummer).

Lahti 2-1 JJK

The meeting between 12th and 11th in a twelve-team division is often a hard sell, but the narrative here was a bit easier to follow. JJK had won on Sunday to create a three point gap. Lahti wore the colours of FC Reipas in a one-off. They dropped on-loan Fulham keeper Jesse Joronen.

JJK took a ninth minute lead through Dutch defender Jordy van Gelderen, and it looked like the party was doomed. But Lahti's Brazilian strikers saved the day - Vini Dantas equalised on 73mins, before substitute Rafael won it with four minutes to go.

Lahti/Reipas/Barnet celebrate

Highlights of the match are available here, via ESS.fi.

The result means Lahti go 11th, on goal difference, overtaking JJK. They have nine points from 13 games, and a GD of -11. JJK also have nine points from thirteen, with a GD of -13.

MYPA 2-4 HJK

HJK returned to the top of the table on their 106th birthday, with the best tonic for their defeat at Honka. MYPA had the joint-best defence in the league, so scoring four was a good result.

Zeneli scored goal four

HJK scored first through a clever Teemu Tainio header, before Xhevdet Gela equalised and it was 1-1 at half-time. A solo wonder goal from Demba Savage gave HJK the lead just after the break, before Moren and Zeneli made it 1-4. A late consolation from Salmikivi made the final score 2-4.

HJK return to the top, 26 points from 14 games, one point ahead of VPS. MYPA drop to sixth, with 20 points from 13 games.

Highlights of MYPA 2-4 HJK

IFK Mariehamn 4-2 KuPS

An early goal for the hosts set the tone here, and the action didn't finish until injury time. Kris Bright opened the scoring on four minutes, before Joel Vartiainen equalised ten minutes later. Bright bagged a smart second before half time, but Ats Purje again levelled with thirteen minutes to go.

But goals from Robin Östlind, and Dever Orgill's seventh of the season won it for Mariehamn. KuPS keeper Mika Hilander was sent off in the dying seconds for handling outside the box, and was replaced in goal by Tero Taipale for the end of the game.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 4-2 KuPS

Mariehamn's inconsistent season aside, they're up to fifth place with 21 points from 14 games. KuPS are seventh with 18 points from 14 matches.

VPS 1-1 Honka

An unlikely match between third and first ended in stalemate in Vaasa. A sixteenth minute goal from Tim Väyrynen gave the hosts the lead with his third goal in five games.

But it was VPS captain Sebastian Strandvall who saved a point with a tremendous goal, two minutes from the end. A one-two with Parikka followed by a smart finish keeps VPS in the chase.

Highlights of Honka 1-1 VPS

Honka are in third place, with 24 points from 14 games. VPS drop to second (as a result of HJK's win), with 25 points from 13 games.

TPS 2-1 RoPS

TPS are slowly moving up the table, creeping up on the leaders. A home win over seasoned bad travellers RoPS helped. Poor defending allowed Mikko Hyyrynen's first goal of the season to give the hosts the lead just after half an hour. Roope Riski doubled the lead on 55mins, going past the keeper and slotting in from a narrow angle.

Mika Lahtinen's headed goal started a RoPS wave of attacks after 73 minutes, but TPS held firm and move onwards and upwards.

Highlights of TPS 2-1 RoPS

TPS are now fourth in the Veikkausliiga, with 23 points from 13 games - just three off HJK with a game in hand. RoPS are now tenth, but have a seven point cushion over the bottom two.

Jaro 0-0 Inter

Inter failed to score for the fourth match in a row. Jaro pootle along, but again had plenty of chances. Inter forward Irakli Sirbiladze, who had been substituted six minutes before the break, was given a straight red card after over-doing the dissent towards the referee. Reports indicate that he threatened to kill the referee... He gets a two-game ban for the red, and the Finnish FA will investigate.


Highlights of Jaro 0-0 Inter

Jaro are eighth, with 18 points from 13 games. Inter go to ninth, with seventeen from 14 games.

--------------------------------------------

The next round of fixtures are played on Monday 24th June, as the players get a rare break for the weekend. The fixtures are:

JJK v TPS
RoPS v VPS
HJK v Jaro
Inter v IFK Mariehamn
KuPS v Lahti
Honka v MYPA

Games kick off at 1630 BST

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New balls please - the 2014 Veikkausliiga matchball

On Tuesday, the Veikkausliiga announced that from 2014, all matches will be played using a Select Brillant Super football. HJK will continue to use Adidas balls until their existing contract finishes at the end of 2014.

The Veikkausliiga ball, coming your way soon (photo from VL)

While Select aren't one of the immediately famous names, they have a wide reputation in Europe as providers of balls to the Danish and Belgian national teams, as well as several clubs throughout the continent. Veikkausliiga club Honka also currently use Select balls.

Rasmus Schüller wants the Select ball (photo via HS)

Initial reactions to the news were that the players were happy to consistently use one make of ball... But reactions to the ball itself have been mixed (at best). AC Oulu goalkeeper David Monsalve told me that Select balls don't move as much as those made by Adidas. Meanwhile VPS captain Sebastian Strandvall bemoaned the quality of the balls "B-quality", and TPS player Juho Lähde believes that defenders will suffer concussions in wet weather...

Needless to say, everyone using the same ball will be of benefit, and removes any indications of advantage. Unless HJK do something with it next year... But it seems that the users of the ball are unhappy.

I've never played with a Select football - if someone would like to send me one so I can test it out at a rubbish 5-a-side level, I'll tell you my address...

*I've edited this article to include the end date of HJK's deal with Adidas, the name of the ball, and added some more player reaction.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Veikkausliiga weeks 12/13 - Short and sweet

As the regulars will know, I've spent the last couple of weeks travelling around Finland. Therefore I've not had a lot of chance to get online, so I've merely compiled the scores - match highlights are on YouTube. Hopefully normal service will soon...

Week 12 (Thursday 13th June)

I went to the Jaro-JJK match in Pietarsaari, and enjoyed a fairly convincing 3-0 home win. Jaro showed some good movement up front, and promising connections between Helmke, Winchester and Emet. JJK were awful...

One of several bad photos I took at Jaro v JJK

The scores were:

HJK 6-0 Inter
TPS 2-0 Honka
MYPA 2-0 KuPS
IFK Mariehamn 1-0 RoPS
Lahti 0-2 VPS
Jaro 3-0 JJK

Week 13 (Sunday 16th June)

Due to a late change of plans, I didn't go to the Honka v HJK game as planned, and was gutted to miss a real clanger. Luckily it was so good, most of the world appears to have seen it since.

Oops

The scores were:

Honka 1-0 HJK
KuPS 3-0 Jaro
VPS 0-0 TPS
JJK 3-2 IFK Mariehamn
Inter 0-0 MYPA
Lahti 0-0 RoPS

Next Veikkausliiga fixtures take place on Wednesday 19th June.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 11 - Banzai in Helsinki, JJK finally win

Following quickly from Wednesday's matches comes another round of Veikkausliiga fixtures. No wonder people are moaning about the amount of games. I can barely keep up. This is the last round before the international break...

HJK 1-2 KuPS

Saturday's only match brought more pain for the champions. It was graduation day, but (bad pun alert) the only team to come out with full honours were the boys from Kuopio.

HJK had come into the match with some bad feeling, having nine players called up for internationals bringing the fixture congestion into focus (they'd asked for their next game against Inter to be postponed, but were turned down). But KuPS had other things to worry about - their recovery after a bad start was hitting the skids, but both came flying out of the blocks, both keepers making saves within the first two minutes.

Miikka Ilo opens the scoring

It was Miikka Ilo who put KuPS ahead just before half-time, beating Wallen. But with seventy minutes gone, Mikael Forssell pounced on a strange header from Omar Colley and levelled the scores at 1-1. Former HJK man Dawda Bah returned in a yellow jersey, and sealed the three points for KuPS with a beautifully curled shot from just outside the box. His celebration was limited to a small wave, nothing too inflammatory...

Forssell levels (photo via Jussi Nukari)

Eight minutes left, it was 1-2 to the visitors, and that's how it ended, despite a late effort from Sakari Mattila in Fergie Time, saved by Hilander.

The first shouts of (Sixten) "Boström Out" were heard from a small section of HJK fans, and his tenure is already looking shaky. While it's accepted that he'll be truly judged on his performance in Europe, he's in danger of slipping behind in the race for the title. They've lost three of their last four home games, having not lost at home in the league since 2010. KuPS meanwhile are frustrating and excellent in equal measure this year, but will take great pride in their second away win of the season.

Highlights of HJK 1-2 KuPS

MYPA 0-1 JJK

After ten games, JJK finally won a league match - and in the process stopped MYPA from closing the gap at the top to one point.

Babatunde's third goal in three games won it, scored after 55 minutes. MYPA have now lost two league games in a row, perhaps getting a nosebleed when so near the top.

Highlights of MYPA 0-1 JJK

MYPA have sixteen points from ten matches, while JJK are now eleventh with their six - after Lahti drop below them as their RoPS forfeit has been ratified.

IFK Mariehamn 0-1 VPS

VPS had never lost a league game at Mariehamn. With ten minutes remaining, they ensured that record continued with a goal from Jyrki Saranpää. It's hard to say too much, as the camera didn't zoom on the goal, or provide a replay, but there was a collision between Saranpää and IFK keeper Otso Virtanen.

VPS celebrate their goal (photo via Erkii Santamala)

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 0-1 VPS

VPS are second now, equal on twenty points with HJK and Honka but with a goal difference of +3. IFK Mariehamn have only won two of their last eight, and they sit eighth with fifteen points from 11 games.

Inter 0-1 Honka

The live game on Urho wasn't much of an advert for Finnish football. There were few chances, some poor finishing, and a bit of a scrappy affair.

The Honka boys after the game (photo via Bo Stranden)

But it was a classy finish from Tim Väyrynen that sealed another win for Honka. After 65 minutes, the ball broke to the forward, he pushed into the area and chipped in over the advancing Inter keeper. It was his first start since coming back from injury, and his second goal. Inter meanwhile looked pretty clueless, their only decent chance was when Diallo headed against the crossbar.

Highlights of Inter 0-1 Honka

Honka are third in the table now, level on 20 points with HJK and VPS. This was their fourth league win in a row. Inter drop to seventh on fifteen points.

Jaro 2-1 RoPS

Another away Veikkausliiga game for RoPS, another defeat. This was their eighteenth defeat in nineteen.

Winchester fires again (photo via Markku Jokela)

Jaro took the lead just before half-time, in-form Trinidad striker Shahdon Winchester departs for international duty with his third in four games. A penalty from Jonas Emet midway through the second half gave the hosts some breathing space, while a last minute penalty from RoPS forward Kokko was merely a consolation.

Highlights of Jaro 2-1 RoPS

RoPS are currently tenth in the table, their thirteen points from eleven matches being inflated by their home form. Jaro are ninth, with fourteen points from ten matches.

Lahti 0-1 TPS

It perhaps wasn't too surprising that TPS were triumphant here. With only one win, against a nervous KuPS, they haven't shown many signs of improvement. Despite a heavy recruitment of young Finns, it was TPS who scored the only goal.

A second half corner was headed in (superbly) by Jani Tanska after 52 minutes. TPS lost Joonas Tursas to a second yellow card on 67 minutes, and he'll serve a one match ban.

The highlights are here, which takes you to the ESS website.

Lahti are currently twelth with five points, as their 1-1 draw with RoPS was confirmed as a 0-3 defeat. TPS are fifth, on sixteen points.

----------------------------------------

We now have an international break, Finland will play Belarus home and away. The next domestic fixtures are on Thursday 13th June. I'll be in Finland, at Jaro v JJK on the 13th, and Honka v HJK on the 16th.