Showing posts with label Finland national team. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Finland national team. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What next for Finland?

2018 World Cup qualifying is over for Finland. Well, it's been over for months. Monday night saw the final match in group I, in Turku against an also-eliminated Turkey. It turned out to be an entertaining 2-2, but ultimately counts for little other than FIFA ranking points and cementing Finland's place in division C in the upcoming Nations League.

Like the qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships, the best sequence of results was saved for the end, when the pressure was ultimately off. Finishing with two wins and two draws has echoes of that group, but the seeds of failure were sown much earlier.
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The World Cup group was drawn in 2015, when Finland were at their lowest ebb after the sacking of Mixu Paatelainen. Placed in the fifth seeding pot due to a poor FIFA ranking, the Finns were drawn in a tough group with Iceland, Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine, before being joined later by Kosovo. Fifth place was expected, and achieved.

After Markku Kanerva steadied the ship post-Mixu, the Finnish FA (Palloliitto) held an open search for his successor. Applicants included Stuart Pearce and former Gibraltar boss Allen Bula; but the selection panel of the late FA chairman Pertti Alaja, secretary Marco Casagrande and advisor Jari Litmanen went for Swede Hans Backe - a manager who had mostly worked in Scandinavia, with diverse spells at Notts County and New York Red Bulls...
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Backe's reign was an unmitigated disaster. No wins, a complete lack of vision and an even lower FIFA ranking, which ended up outside the top 100. The fixture choices seemed baffling, taking prestige batterings by Germany, Poland and Italy over more productive games. Probably not Backe's fault, but still.
Kanerva again took the reins, this time on a permanent basis. Despite a friendly win over Morocco, other results stayed poor. Injuries played their part, Moisander and Sparv were long-term absentees, while Joel Pohjanpalo and Eero Markkanen struggled to get minutes for their club sides. When he was able to field a virtually full-strength team against Iceland, they won 1-0 and followed that with a win over Kosovo and score draws against Croatia and Turkey.
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It's perhaps harsh to compare Kanerva with England's Gareth Southgate - promoted after a sacking, more experience of coaching or working with youngsters. Barring a catastrophe or a complete change of heart at the top of Palloliitto, Markku will be in charge when the Nations League kicks off in 2018 and probably the Euro 2020 qualifying in 2019. Are there any obvious Finnish contenders to replace him? Simo Valakari is now in Norway, Lehkosuo has won a double with HJK but was lucky to keep his job a year ago.

Individually, Finland have some very good players. There is a decent spine that, when all fit, should provide plenty of tough opposition. The youngsters on the fringes of the side have shown that they can add dynamism and pace. Players like Simon Skrabb, Fredrik Jensen, Pyry Soiri and Sauli Väisänen show promise and could become established internationals in the coming years. Alex Ring has come on leaps and bounds at New York City FC, Paulus Arajuuri looked good in the qualifiers and Lukas Hradecky has a fine record in the Bundesliga.

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Will Finland qualify for a major tournament any time soon? Well the 24 team Euros and the wildcard spots from the Nations League represent the best chance. It'll need a favourable draw and good luck with player fitness and form, but recent results should enable a better seeding.

It's easy to get carried away after such a long time of scraps and defeats. It's a time for reflection and building for 2020.

Oi Suomi on.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Top five - Huuhkajat needing a transfer

Another guest post from Mark of FC Suomi - this time looking at the five Finland players in need of a transfer... Five players at various stages of their careers.

Tero Mäntylä

By the end of 2014, Tero's stock as a ball playing centre-back was on the rise and with the number of games under his belt increasing both domestically and in European competition, the then-22 year old looked like in Ludogorets and the Bulgarian top flight, he'd managed to take the road less travelled to the big time. As qualification to the Champions League became more likely, however billionaire owner Kiril Domuschiev decided to throw money into the first team. After playing his part in the qualifiers to get them to football's top table, Tero found himself at the back of the Ludogorets queue. With game time looking scarce, Tero made a bold move to mutually cancel his contract, packing his six winners medals (two leagues, two cups, two supercups) and heading north to Aalesunds. The 2015 season started well enough for Tero, playing behind then-captain Sakari Mattila; though Aalesund with a lack of firepower struggled in the league. Harald Aabrekk was sacked, Trond Fredriksen came in and Tero's role slowly diminished. and in 2017 is yet to make an appearance for the Tangoshirts. At his best, Tero was seen as an understudy to Niklas Moisander, composed and a good reader of the game who relies more on wits than strength. The promising youngster is now 26 and may be well served with a return home, to (for example) a former champion looking for composure and calm after a disruptive start to the campaign.


Mehmet Hetemaj

This may be tough for SJK fans to hear, but Mehmet Hetemaj is too good for the Veikkausliiga. Through the highs of Simo's transformative reign and the pain of the Boström experiment, Mehmet has been a constant throughout. Mehmet often provided the extra quality needed (see the Finnish Cup Final last year, and semi-final this year) to drive the team forward. His three years in Seinäjoki have taken him to the ripe old age of 29 meaning it may be unlikely there's still one big move left in him, but a good showing in European competition could be all he needs.  


Thomas Lam

Mark Warburton is a fighter. He was installed at Nottingham Forest to avoid yet another crisis, so he rallied the troops around simple, direct tactics and the kind of tackling that wouldn't be unusual outside of a nightclub at four in the morning. While it's true Thomas Lam may need to toughen up his edges, their styles in play and approach to the game may be too broad to bridge. Warburton and his assistant David Weir have no time for "luxury players", yet seem to define such players by the thickness of their accent and are no strangers to falling out with people. Throw in the inevitable chaos and confusion that is the once mighty Nottingham Forest, and you've got one of the intelligent prospects of Finnish football potentially being taught the art of the concealed Glasgow kiss, the cheeky nut-grab or the hoof. With many admirers still back in Holland and a host of Championship managers also aware of his poise and calm, it may be best for all concerned to simply agree to disagree.


Tim Väyrynen

The Veikkausliiga player of the year in 2013 left Finland with high hopes, three cup winners medals and a burgeoning international career. Since then he's had a series of impressive false starts, despite scoring on his Borussia Dortmund II, Victoria Köln and Dynamo Dresden debuts. Köln in the German regional leagues was the only place he got a run of games, scoring 11 in 15 and lifting the Middle Rhine Regional Cup at the end of the 2015 season. Other postings have seen Tim limited to sub appearances, which for a developing player with his potential was less than ideal. Like others in this list though, he is no longer a young player. Now 24 with roughly around ten appearances a season (mostly off the bench) for the past four seasons, at four different clubs, Tim needs consistency, that means games, which usually brings goals.


Berat Sadik

Two years ago, Sadik was in the prime of his career, banging goals in for a resurgent FC Thun and causing Mixu Paatelainen problems by carrying his scoring form to the national team with a goal against Northern Ireland. With plaudits from every corner, European competition beckoning and Mixu on his way out; the summer of 2015 looked decidedly rosy. Football is however complex, a mistimed tackle (in Finland's win over Greece) and misguided transfer to newly promoted Krylya Sovetov in the Russian Premier League combined to give Berat just 17 appearances in the last two years, only four of them starts and grabbing no goals. This turn of events is made all the more galling considering Krylya simply don't play with wingers or to a target man, like Berat, they were relegated last season. Still only 30 and with rumours that he is to fill an Alfredo Morelos shaped hole at HJK, Berat is still a powerful target man who has shown that a regular run of games ends up with goals. You just can't help feel that whatever agent took him to the Soviets (literal translation of "Sovetov") should pay back his 15%.


Congratulations must be lauded also on Petteri Forsell (number 1 in the draft of this article), who is clearly too good for the Polish first division and should make a real impact in Krakow next season. 

Many thanks again to Mark for this stellar contribution. You can follow his works on FC Suomi and on the Finnish Football Show podcast.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jere the pacemaker

Here is a guest post by my Finnish Football Show co-host Mark Hayton from www.FCSuomi.com - talking about one of Finland's brightest prospects - defender Jere Uronen.

It's not easy being a full back. Usually, you face the opposition's fastest or most skillful player. Your immediate support are centre backs and wingers (translated: guys barking orders and guys ignoring orders), and the role has little to no recognition - noticed only when there's a gap or a mistake and even for the best full backs in history such from Roberto Carlos to Philip Lahm often had the ignominious "...for a full-back" suffix added to their list of accolades. 

In the modern game this is magnified as the role of the full back has evolved. In the 1990s, full-back and wing-back were two different roles, yet in the last decade someone decided to merge those two roles and not tell anyone. Modern wingers are essentially wing-forwards (in old money) and it's rare these days to see defences set up with high lines or offside traps so basically intrepid full backs cover byline to byline.


One of our own currently mastering this tactical evolution is Jere Uronen, who has also managed to quietly navigate another of modern football's tricky areas: game time. When Genk came knocking in 2016, the then 20 year old had already racked up 100 career games in the Swedish league and game time in European competition. During this time he garnered recognition from the national set up, but little fuss was made in the media about the young Turkulainen blessed with pace, good control and positional sense. Focus, as usual, fell not on the players covering grass, but on those in fancy track suits on exotic training pitches nearing first team considerations but not what we called back in the 90s "learning the trade". 

Genk's Europa League run this year took them to within a hair's breath of a semi-final round jam packed with Europe's elite. Against a strong Celta Vigo, the Belgians, our man ever-present of course, were competitive, threatening and were it not for (former KuPS defender) Omar Colley's off-night in the first leg, could have returned from Spain with more than just the two away goals. Semi-finalists in the Belgian Cup and currently on track to return to European competition next season, Genk and Jere are an improving side and have made themselves a comfortable reputation for being a testing ground for players heading to the big leagues. 


So, as the Sima cracks open this Vappu and the discussions around the plight of Finnish players rev up, remember Jere. A young man with talent and determination not taking a fast track to the subs bench but working his way up the football pyramid, who earned his Vappu through graft, through competition, through silverware and continental experience. Raise a glass and give him some recognition to his achievements, he's worked hard for them... even for a full back.

Many thanks to Mark for this - you can catch up with his regular updates on the national team and players at www.fcsuomi.com

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Finland's darkest hour

It's around this time of year, in late November, when the sun sets on Utsjoki in Northern Finland for winter - not to be seen again until January. Even then it's only for an hour or so, but it's essentially eight weeks of darkness. It's not all bad, it's the best time to see the Northern Lights and the snow does bring some relief.

Image: Pentti Kallinen / Yle

In a similar vein, the sun was supposed to rise on Finnish football on January 1st 2016. The reign of Mixu Paatelainen and his Christmas tree was over, a solid caretaker spell from Markku Kanerva steadied the ship, Hans Backe taking over the job full-time at the turn of the year once his television commitments were finished.

Since then...

It isn't (all) Backe's fault. He's had a rotten run of injuries. At various points, he's been without Moisander, Sparv, Pohjanpalo, Uronen and Hetemaj. He has also inherited a World Cup qualifying group in which Finland were fifth seed because of the FIFA ranking at the time of the draw (90th in July 2015, thanks Mixu). A group containing Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey was always going to be tough, especially with the addition of a Kosovo side who'd never played a competitive game. Certainly harder than the Euro 2016 pool, where third place guaranteed at least a play-off.



Away friendlies were arranged against big teams in Belgium, Poland, Italy and Germany. They were even leading in Belgium in the 89th minute. But...

There is a tactical inflexibility as infuriating as Mixu's 4-3-2-1. Playing seven defenders at home to Croatia, which left about half a mile of space behind Pukki, was knackered as soon as they conceded. Moisander in midfield? I've gone on record saying I'm not his biggest fan, but don't play him there. Of course he then picked up a booking which ruled him out of the Ukraine match.

Moisander v Iceland

The players need to take responsibility. Moisander himself was lucky to play against Croatia after a complete lack of discipline after the injury time goal in Iceland where he grabbed the ref by the collar. Backe's video analyst John Wall has said that "only half of the players" watched the pre-Ukraine footage that was sent to them by mobile phone. Individual errors have directly resulted in conceding goals.

This brings us onto Roman Eremenko. This week he received a two-year ban from UEFA after testing positive for cocaine in a Champions League match between Bayer Leverkusen and his club side CSKA Moscow. Eremenko scored in a 2-2 draw on matchday one. Russian journalists have suggested that the levels in the sample implied that he almost certainly took the drugs on the day of the game. His club have indicated that they will appeal...


Eremenko has probably been the most consistently excellent Finland player at club level over the last two years. He hasn't always brought that form to the national team, but his quality is unquestionable. Assuming the appeal is unsuccessful, he won't be available again until October 2018, at which point qualification will have begun for Euro 2020. Then one has to take into account his readiness - fitness, mental state, motivation, plus he'll be 31 and not played a match in two years. Will he still be on the gear during his enforced break?

There are benefits - his presence in the team arguably slowed things down in the final third, while it may allow younger dynamic players like Robin Lod to flourish in his absence. There are several others in the U21 side who may also benefit, Simon Skrabb to name one. But his absence is another black mark on Finnish football, one which will bring extra scrutiny on players and support staff alike.

The other elephant in the room is the FIFA Ranking. I touched on it earlier, how the rankings are used to decide seedings. Well, under Backe the ranking has dropped to 101st at the time of writing - Finland's lowest since the system came into effect in 1991. Ranked below Syria, Malawi and Kyrgyzstan is a sad day. The methods used to calculate the positions are questioned, but they are based on results. To put it into context, even the defeat to Ukraine will see Finland rise back into the 90s due to the re-weighting of older matches.

Finland have hardly had glory days in their football history - a fourth place in the 1912 Olympic games is their biggest success, with no World Cup or Euro appearance to list. The team of the late 90s came closest, conceding a shambolic last minute own goal equaliser to Hungary cost a play-off match. A generation with Litmanen, Hyypiä, Johansson, Niemi, Riihilahti, Kolkka, Forssell didn't make it. There was no root-and-branch review.


The biggest nations look to themselves when things go wrong. Germany did it after poor showings in Euro 2000 and 2004 (despite a World Cup final appearance in-between). Brazil took some time after their 2014 semi-final humiliation against the Germans, but replacing Dunga with Tite this year saw a massive upturn in form after a poor start to their qualification. England constantly try new approaches but with similar results - constantly looking elsewhere in a bid to establish their own identity.

Several Finnish youth internationals are based at clubs in England, with supposedly access to elite coaching. Keto at Arsenal, Virtanen at Everton, Sundman at Aston Villa to name but three. Their time may come, but they will need regular first team matches. It's a conversation had regularly about Jari Litmanen - would he be allowed to stay in Finland until 21 in the current age, playing regular games and winning trophies?

Domestic league football in Finland has had something of a renaissance in the last couple of seasons, in interest and drama at least. SJK and IFK Mariehamn winning maiden titles after proper title races, Helsinki derbies bringing sell-out crowds and some needle too with a promotion/relegation play-off between the two big Turku clubs. While average attendances haven't jumped, the fact that every Veikkausliiga game is streamed live and some shown on free-to-air TV won't hurt at all. Even the second tier had a strong finish. The PK-35 shambles didn't reflect well however and we can almost certainly look forward to the annual financial scrutiny resulting in some movement within the divisions. We've seen Backe calling up some Finland based players for recent squads - Granlund, Riski, Saksela and Viitala have all been watched.


Ultimately, there's no quick fix for Finland's problems. Palloliitto (the Finnish FA) aren't flush with cash and there are numerous reasons why the changes also need to come at the top. Removing Backe will only work if a proper structure is in place to choose the correct successor, and there is little chance of that happening given the calibre of applicants for the last vacancy. The disparity between international sides is greater than in league matches, there are more mismatches in qualifiers. Backe's recent contact with Wales manager Chris Coleman seemed to suggest a desire to look past his own side, but Finland do not have Aaron Ramsey or Gareth Bale.

At their recent meeting, the weekend of the Eremenko ban news, Palloliitto reminded everyone that the number of registered footballers in Finland is up 7% to over 140,000 players, including 32,000 females. These are numbers to be proud of, for sure. But the context in which these figures were unveiled suggests that everything is fine.

It's a long time until the next qualifier away to Turkey in March and a lot can change. It certainly can't get any worse.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Matsipäivä - a Finnish football photo book

Nine Finnish football photographers have joined forces to compile and showcase their most beautiful and interesting photographs. Matsipäivä (the Finnish word for "matchday") is a confession of love for Finnish football.


Football is the most beautiful sport. A photograph can capture the endless layers, to tell you all about a single moment, a single player, one team or the nature of the entire event. It can act as an interpreter of emotions when catastrophe strikes, and at the time of redemption, as evidence of an immortal genius hero moment or a villainous twist.

But how do you capture Finnish football? How to preserve the passion and longing? Matsipäivä presents images from lower leagues up to Veikkausliiga, as well as the Finland national team in one volume.


The book will present the photographs of Mari Hietala, Olli Jantunen, Niko Karumaa, Teemu Kvist, Riku Laukkanen, Petteri Lehtonen, Matti Savolainen, Jaakko Stenroos and Joppe Survonen.

The project is being crowdfunded, with some good benefits for donors. If the project is funded, contributions can be rewarded with copies of the book, along with poster sized prints of a selection of the photographs included in the books. 


You can contribute to Matsipäivä by clicking on this link - http://mesenaatti.me/matsipaiva/

The group can also be reached on the usual social media channels:
Twitter - @matsipaiva
Instagram - @matsipaiva

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Interview with Finland international Sebastian Strandvall

It's another interview on ETS, with a player who has taken a step into the (virtual) unknown. Former VPS captain Sebastian Strandvall, now of Rah Ahan in the Persian Gulf Pro League (Iran's top division), has taken time out to give some incredibe insight into life as a footballer, and as a person, in a very unique part of the world.

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How are you finding Iranian football? How did you end up in Iran?
Iranian football is all about passion and heart. That's the first thing that comes to my head. Perhaps not necessarily the same type of passion and energy as the lower British leagues. The passion here also includes doing beautiful and technical things. Otherwise comparing to Veikkausliiga, the tempo is very very high, at least at its best. You have little time on the ball and the technique and physique of the players is also good. What the Iranians lack the most is tactical knowledge. They clearly don't get the same tactical schooling as most European players get at a quite young age. This often leads to poor decision making, especially in attacking play. If you mess up a three v one counter attack in Europe, most likely you get slaughtered. But here that happens all the time and no one seems to care too much. Anyway, the Persian Gulf Pro League is a very good league compared to many European leagues. When you consider that Iran has around 80 million inhabitants and an absolutely huge interest in football, it's quite logical. 

I ended up here as a result of great agent work. Our plan was to find a good club in Central Europe, after having a good spring in Austria last year. But the small, yet badly timed ankle injury I suffered just before the end of the season, made us change our plans. We had some really good things going on but they fell apart when I wasn't 100% fit to play in the month of June. After none of these good offers in Europe succeeded, we slowly turned our focus to this side of the world. My agent is half German, half Iranian, so he had some contacts here. Then, after seeing me on videos, Rah Ahan's new owner really wanted me here and he even flew to Munich to meet with my agent. This gave me the signal that the club really wants me and also the plans for the club seemed interesting. In the end, things moved very quickly.

Seba in action in Iran

The culture in Iran is vastly different to Finland – what are the strangest customs you’ve encountered?
Of course there is the fact that you can't dress exactly the way you want, which is weird for us Europeans. But otherwise to be honest, I haven't experienced too many strange things at all. It can be very confusing though, with the Persian peoples politeness. There is a thing called "taroof" in Iran which basically means that you offer your help to anyone you meet, but with no intention of actually providing help... The person that is offered help is expected to decline several times. If you don't know that it's a matter of "taroof", you might think that you are actually going to get help or a favour from the person offering. Essentially, you get offered help but you don't actually get it. It's just a Persian cultural thing to always act politely. The most "dramatic" thing must have been when sheep have been sacrificed... A couple times at the training center and a couple times outside the hotel on the morning of a game, sheep have been sacrificed in order to keep bad spirits away...

Is it true that local women aren’t allowed to attend games? Does that make the atmosphere obviously different?
It is true yes. I think this will change in the future, as foreign women are already allowed in the stadiums. I'm sure that it will change at some point but it's very difficult to guess when it will happen. I wouldn't say the atmosphere is obviously different, but of course it would be nice if everyone who wants to could come and watch the games.

With Hans Backe now in charge of the Finnish national team, are you hoping to get back into the squad?
The Finnish national team has always been important to me, it will be my goal to be part of the squad for as long as I play at a professional level. The biggest reason I wanted to play outside Finland was that I felt I needed to play in a tougher league in order to claim a regular spot in the national team. Now when I play here, I feel like I'm better prepared to play international games, if the call-up would come. My head is already set to a quicker and more technical level of football, with little time on the ball. So yes, I'm hoping that I will get a chance with Hans Backe and I'm also confident I will get my chance at some point if I continue playing well here. There are quite a few international friendlies scheduled before the World Cup qualifiers start, so I'm sure I will be given a chance to take a spot on the team.

Photo via YLE

Your old club VPS had a slow start to 2015 but recovered well – how easy is it to follow their progress from abroad?
Yes they had a really bad season, close to catastrophic but luckily they managed to stay in the league. It doesn't really matter if you have a bad season, as long as you learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. I follow their progress as best as I can. The Internet is very slow in Iran but it still gives me a chance to follow the progress. I read updates on different sites and also I'm still in touch with both players and staff of the teams. With the new stadium in Vaasa coming, I really hope the club will try to step it up once again and achieve a lot of success in the future.

How do you think Veikkausliiga football compares to that in Iran or Austria?
The biggest difference is in tempo. In the Austrian Erste Liga, the quality was not the best but it was a very physical style of play with quick attacks and a lot of running up and down. It was developing in the sense that I improved my ability to win duels and tackles. Also I learned how to think faster, since you really had to do that, otherwise you would get tackled for sure. Erste Liga compares to the lower English divisons, while Austrian Bundesliga also is physical, but a lot more technique and composed tactical playing. Not so much up and down all the time. I would really have liked to play in that league, since I feel it would be a really suitable league for me, and also for other typical Finnish players. In Iran the tempo is again a little higher, at least against the better teams in the league. Technical and fast guys with incredible passion and will. The Iranians have a lot to learn tactically, but for now they compromise the lack of tactical knowledge with passion and spirit. In Finland we need to develop and try to make the tempo of the games a lot higher, then we can get closer to other leagues.

Has your move abroad broadened your horizons? Would you encourage young Finns to travel away from the traditionally big leagues?
Absolutely. You need to know that the league you are about to go to is not completely shit, so to speak... But the leagues in both East and West are constantly improving. The NASL in North America for example, I would guess that's a league that is constantly getting better now since the MLS is also doing so well. Also in the East with leagues like China signing big names. Therefore I can imagine that other leagues in Asia are also going to improve. I honestly think that you don't have much to lose. A footballing career is short but if you don't like a place, I'm certain that no one will force you to stay. So if you get an opportunity, I definitely think you should try.

Photo via Veikkausliiga

What is the biggest thing you miss about Finland?
The people. My fiancé, my family and my friends. I can live without all the other lovely things that Finland offers for some time, like sauna and rye bread. I can enjoy those things when I come back. But the people I miss for sure, especially my fiancé, even though she has visited me for a total of almost two months over here.

Which player did you grow up idolising? And is there a player in the world you enjoy watching most?
Eric Cantona and David Beckham. But also of course Jari Litmanen. After 1994, Tomas Brolin from Sweden. Schweinsteiger is a favourite at the moment. But I also try to watch other players who play in my position, especially Modric, Rakitic and Thomas Müller. 


Your brother Matias is a world champion skier – were you ever keen to get into winter sports?
I actually used to compete in cross country skiing myself. It kind of goes in the family... Our parents allowed us to try every sport we wanted to. I was pretty good at skiing and I have a lot of medals from when I was young. But around the ages of 14-15, when the other boys started to train harder and get better, I fell behind and quit, because I never really liked the training. I just competed. But the technique is still there and nowadays I enjoy going for a ski when I have the time. Anyway, my number one winter sport was ice hockey. I used to play until I was 16-17 and I was pretty good at that too. At first I considered quitting football and going all in with the hockey, but I changed my mind after some coaches told me I would make the youth national team in football if I'd just quit ice hockey. My first call-up to a national team didn't happen until the age of 21, but I am still very happy with my choice.

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My thanks again to Sebastian for a superb set of answers, this already ranks very high on my list of favourites!

As always, any suggestions for future interviews or help in contacting interesting people, let me know on the usual channels...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Interview with Finland U19 international Kaisa Collin

Time for another interview, this time my friend Henry Hakamäki has joined in again by speaking to HJK's Kaisa Collin, who also plays for Finland's U19 girls side. Thanks again to both.

What first got you interested in football? What made you decide to become a professional?
I got interested in football already in kindergarten. I liked to score goals and humiliate opponents with fancy skills... The only thing that has ever really interested me is football. School or work does not make me happy, football makes me happy and I want to be happy.

Kaisa (#10) in international action - photo via Tapio Tuomela

Who is the player that you've always wanted to be like?  Who was the player you loved watching the most?  And who is the best player you've ever played with or against?
I've always wanted to be like Zlatan. Of course I love to watch Zlatan, but also Ronaldinho is one of my favourites to watch. The best player who I have ever played with is Minna Meriluoto. Minna is a great leader, an unbelievable goalkeeper and also a good person who really cares about her team.

How does playing in Finland specifically affect how you play the sport? What would you like to be different?
In Finland, our season is from April to October because of the weather. Women's football is not very appreciated so we don't have a lot of audience in our games. I would change the women’s season from summer to winter to get more respect for women's football and to get more fans to come! It would also be nice if women in Finland could get more money for playing football.

What's the best advice you have for your career, and who gave it?
Maybe when my good friend, and also a very good footballer, Olga Ahtinen, said to me "Don't ever change your personality, because that is your strength in football".


What part of your personality would be your biggest strength for football?
I’d probably say my self-confidence.

What does it feel like to represent Finland for football? How important is it for you to represent the country?
It's great to represent Finland in football, I am really proud to be part of the youth national team. The first time I played for the youth national team, it was exciting and also great because I had so many good players around me. Playing for the national team is very important for me. This spring, we have qualifiers for the U19 European Championships in Holland, and that has been one of my biggest goals for two years. Some day I also want to play for the senior women's national team.

How is playing for Finland different than playing for your club?
In the club, we work everyday together, but in the national team we do not have a lot of days together. National team is maybe more professional than club.


What's your goal for Euros coming up, personally, and what is the goal for the team?
Well, the team goal is of course to win qualifiers and then have success in the finals. My personal goal is to help the team on the field and I want to be one of the best goalscorers at the Euros.

Is there any part of your game that you want to improve during the Euros?
During the winter, I have worked a lot on my physicality, and I hope that in the Euros I am physically at the international level.

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Thanks again to Henry and to Kaisa, as always it's very much appreciated.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Interview with Finland midfielder Kasper Hämäläinen

In the latest ETS interview, I spoke with Finland's Kasper Hämäläinen, who recently caused controversy in Poland by moving from Lech Poznań to their fierce rivals Legia Warsaw. Many thanks to Kappe for his replies.




Congratulations on your move to Legia – did you find it difficult to move to a rival club? Has some of the reaction been a surprise?
Thank you. I knew exactly how much rivalry they have between these two clubs and I had to give serious thought before I signed for Legia. I knew there would be some kind of reaction and I was prepared for it, so it didn't come as a surprise for me.

Did you have offers from clubs in any other countries?
I had few options from different countries but as a whole package, Legia's offer suited us the best...

You’ve got a league title medal with Lech, is that the best achievement of your career so far?
After winning two silver medals, to win the league title was something extraordinary. It was my first league title and the feeling was unbelieveable. I hope that wasn't my only league title! Yes, that's my best achievement of my career so far.

What was the atmosphere like at Lech? Did the fans celebrating backwards seem strange at first?
Lech Poznan is known for its good atmosphere and for the fan culture. So I got to know it really quickly and there was a lot of noise. I knew about the "Lech Poznan dance" so it didn't come as a shock for me but still to experience that with my own eyes was something special.


Now that Hans Backe has taken over the Finland job, have you spoken to him about the future?
I spoke with him after our last qualification game against Northern Ireland and we had a good chat. Quite short, but still a little chat. He wanted to know if I'm still eager to play for the national team and I said of course I am.

Do you think the side could qualify for a major tournament in the near future?
Absolutely. We just need a little bit of luck and a good start to the campaign. Just look how Iceland managed to win their group. Everything is possible. We must believe.

As yet another TPS graduate, do you think you’ll ever return to play there?
It depends a little bit where I'm going to settle down after my journey abroad... If it is Turku, then of course I would like to play there.


You played a lot of Veikkausliiga games before moving abroad, would you recommend that to youngsters who get offers at a young age?
I was actually quite old when I moved from Veikkausliiga to Sweden. But I had some serious injuries and my development halted for a moment so I was sort of a late bloomer. But my advise is to stay and play in Veikkausliiga for a few years and then move forward. Don't rush with anything but still try to keep yourself motivated for wanting to move to one of the bigger leagues.

What was the experience like of playing in the 2003 U17 World Championships? How did it prepare you for senior football?
Back then I didn't really realize how big that was. I just played for fun and didn't think about it so much. It was a really nice experience for me and I'm sure it has helped me a lot later on.



Some footballers play video games to unwind, some make music, how do you relax away from football?
Well now we have a little baby so most of the attention goes to him... So I'm quite busy at home! But if I have time, I like to go and hit some golf balls or just go for a walk with my dog.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Finnish Football Show episode 3

This Wednesday, January 20th, we will record episode 3 of the Finnish Football Show. As before, it will be recorded on Blab, which is a live video platform with a forum for questions. Our podcast wizard Mark will then do his bits with it and release it for listening soon after.



Episode three will cover two themes - the Finland national team's new era (after the friendly defeats to Iceland and Sweden) and also the transfers involving Finns and Finnish clubs.

Please join us on the link below at 7pm GMT (9pm Finland) on Wednesday.

Link to #FFS3

If you'd like to follow my co-hosts, Mark Wiltshear is the host of the Explore Finland radio show, while Mark Hayton writes for FC Suomi, about the Finnish national team.

As before, I'm running a poll to decide what football shirt I'll wear during the recording... Join in!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Interview with Finland futsal captain Panu Autio

In the latest ETS interview, I spoke to the captain of the Finnish futsal national team Panu Autio. Some very in depth answers, thanks again Panu. I'll also add that the interview was done in Finnish in order to get the full breadth of answers.

You’ve played both football and futsal at high levels – which is harder?
Personally football is a lot more difficult for me because the ball bounces more, the pitch is bigger and there are more players. Futsal is a simpler game, where decision making means the basic principles of the game are more pronounced in relation to physics for instance. Futsal is more wholesome. Attention is more focused on small details of the game and the conducting those with skill is the thing that makes the difference.



How did you get into futsal?
I played football for FC Espoo and my fellow player Janne "Boogie" Laine got me to go along. "Boogie" was the captain of the national team at that time, as well as the GFT player coach. When I got the hang of it, I realised futsal was the perfect fit for me. You could say it was love at first sight!

Do you think that more professional footballers should try futsal during winter?
It is fun and it gives you new points of view on the game. On the futsal pitch, you learn technical tools in a smaller space such as using the soles of your feet, protecting the ball and a lower playing stance. So why not? I am fairly convinced that one reason why Brazilian and Spanish footballers have a better understanding of the game than Finns is partly because they have played futsal as kids.

You and Pekka Sihvola spent time playing in South America, what did you learn from it?
I learned about how many different footballing cultures there are in the world. I learned how to work in a different changing room and how it is to show yourself to a completely strange foreign team where other players are completing with you for the same work and game opportunities. I also learned Spanish.



As you’re also working with JPY (Finland's player union), what are the biggest challenges facing young footballers?
I currently work for JPY as a Contact Manager. To work as a professional footballer is challenging in Finland and wages (that were never that high to begin with) have come down in the last couple of years. Compared with other countries, in Finland the status of a professional footballer in society's hierarchy is lower than in other countries. Here even the cleaner of the stadium often earns more than the youngest players in the league. It is an absurd situation and explaining it to a Spaniard, an Italian or a German might be difficult. A different career path may therefore seem an easier and smarter choice. On the other hand, because of these reasons, you can say that in Finland the top footballers are working with total commitment.

What role can sport play in helping integrate refugees and immigrants?
This is a big question. Sport, and football in particular, is probably the best way to help refugees into the Finnish society. Football is a universal language and on the pitch everyone is equal in front of the game. We already have so many positive stories of players who have risen to key roles in our national teams. U21 national team captain Mosa Yaghoubi for example is a brilliant example that we can be proud of here in Finland. If football becomes important in the refugee question, this can also help the popularity of the game in Finland. The player organisation has for several years organised a "Football Belongs to Everyone" campaign that concludes with a national championship tournament between the reception centres.



Do you think futsal can become as pivotal as street football in developing talent?
Futsal is very similar to street football. Making distinctions between the street game, football and futsal is extremely difficult and often quite unnecessary. In Finland the street, park and yard footballing culture is fairly non-existent. I believe that futsal could bridge this gap in Finnish football and sports culture. I especially hope that futsal tournaments at different levels could become more common in Finland.

In recent years, futsal has become more popular – what will happen next?
The growth in popularity will most likely continue for a while. The Finnish national team is the Nordic Cup and the Baltic Cup champions so we could act as a kind of pathfinder for other Northern European countries. I also hope that futsal is more actively chosen in the school sports curriculum. Afterwards I would like to see Finnish futsal leagues getting more professional and the media get increasingly interested alongside it.

How much support do you get from Palloliitto (Finnish football association) for resources and facilities?
Palloliitto does a lot of good work for futsal and they have understood futsal's value and potential. Of course there is always room for improvement. For instance when it comes to conditions, Palloliitto could take a more active stance with the public sector and ensure that all towns have enough safe futsal pitches for the players. In Finland there isn't a single outdoors futsal pitch for example.


Could Finland qualify for a major futsal tournament soon?
That is the dream and we strongly believe in it. The last couple of qualifiers under Mićo Martić have been extremely close. In the next Euro qualifiers our team will be strong and we will be tactically more mature than before. We also hope that more than one individual national team player gets a chance to play professionally in the top leagues in Europe. That would make us even more prepared to play against the best countries in the world.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finnish Football Show episode 2

Monday 14th December sees myself, Mark and Mark return to our respective hotseats for the second episode of the Finnish Football Show. After the surprisingly good reception of the first episode, we will be looking at the Finland national team, with new boss Hans Backe due to start in three weeks time.



As before, we will be recording using the Blab platform, so it'll be a live video broadcast (effectively a video call) before the edited recording hits your podcast devices later in the week.

Please join us at 7pm GMT (9pm in Finland), where you can help contribute messages and tweets using the hashtag #FFS2 - see what we did there?

Subscribe to this link - Finnish Football Show episode 2

See you then!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview with Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky

The latest ETS q&a is with Finland and Eintracht Frankfurth goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, who has been generous enough to give some fantastic answers. He joins a growing list of big names, click on the interviews tab along the top of the page for more. Thanks again Luke for your time!

Finland’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ended strongly but you just missed out. How is the mood in the camp ahead of the World Cup qualifiers?
I believe every team needs to go through a tough time to grow together, so the way we came back after the four consecutive defeats; and the change of the coach indicates our strong mentality. So the mood is optimistic and we have no reason to believe that we can't qualify next time.


Lukas celebrating the win over Greece in September 2015

There has been a long tradition of great keepers from Finland, what’s the secret?
I've no idea actually, maybe it's an easier position to develop talent more than for the outfield players. More and more clubs have a goalkeeper coach available, which means three or four keepers have a coach to themselves, so compare that to outfield players and the ratio and effectiveness of personal coaching is not so big. Wow, this was actually a pretty deep answer by me! But it all starts and ends with the personal desire to make it within each keeper, maybe Finns are crazy enough to want to be keepers...

Which goalkeeper was your idol when you were growing up?
It has kind of changed, as a younger kid and a keeper I saw the keepers differently to how I do now. Now I actually analyse while watching a game and see if they are making a mistake or something worth learning. But if I have to mention Jose Luis Chilavert's freekick taking, which was one of my first memories and the keeper I started to idolise. Then came Casillas, Buffon and the others, now I'm with Neuer ;) 


In the book about Robert Enke (A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng), there was a lot of mentions about the friendly rivalry between keepers in one team – how do you try to help the kids learn?
I've never actually read the book, don't know why. Some of my friends who read it recommended that I not read it, so I never did. But to answer your question, it's seen to be universal. I mean the thing they call the "goalkeepers' union", you fight for the same position and you're almost best friends on the team, that might be paradoxical to believe for many people; but that's how it is here as well. I always tell everybody that you don't want to succeed at somebody else's expense, if and when you get the chance and take it, then you've made it on your own. Lot of work has to be put in to even get a chance as a goalkeeper, I learned that during my first three years in Esbjerg when I was mostly on the bench. 

Now you’re at Eintracht Frankfurt, what is the biggest difference between Danish and German football? 
Different clubs might play different styles within a league as well, but it feels like most teams here want to be better offensively than defensively, when in Denmark it was usually the opposite. No wonder they score more goals in Bundesliga, and I only have one poor clean sheet in nine games, madness! 

Your brothers (Tomas at RoPS and Matej at TPS) are also doing well at their clubs, is there any more Hradecky talent to come?
Most definitely, there must be something useful in our blood sportswise. We used to play everything together, hockey, floorball, volleyball, tennis, you name it. The pride of not losing has developed our talent, just ask our mother how many things the loser always broke around the house. When I was growing up, Tomas had to find a new way to beat me and the same applies for Matej, who I rate the most game-intelligent and talented in our family, because he was the youngest and had the "roughest" patch. 

Some footballers play Xbox, some make music, what are your hobbies?
I don't even own a PlayStation or anything like that, definitely not my thing. I watch a lot of movies and TV series, they're a great way to relax your body and mind. 


Luke celebrating winning the Danish Cup with Esbjerg in 2013 (photo via Liselotte Sabroe)

With Slovakia (Lukas was born in Bratislava) qualifying for the Euros, do you follow their progress at all?
I do! I'm happy to see how well they're doing, but I'm merely a fan, if there ever had to be a choice to make, I hadn't even considered playing for Slovakia. In football, I really only care and feel for Finland, our system produced me and made me the player who I am. 

Manuel Neuer has shown that goalkeepers to be as talented as an outfielders – would you fancy playing in midfield?
No way! Too much running. The beauty of being a goalkeeper is for me to be versatile, and I'm proud and happy that I can play with my feet and be more part of the game than some other keepers. Football is the sport where I'm the worst in the outfield, I always played outfield in every other sports tournament back in school. Strange. 

Do you think you’ll ever return to TPS?
If it's only up to me then yes, most definitely. Right now I can only imagine living in Turku after my career. It would be great to play for the team and city that raised me. For me it's a haven with all the good memories, friends and family. That's where I feel home. 


Luke visiting TPS (photo via TPStv.fi)

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Many thanks again Luke, good luck for the future. Watch this space for more interviews!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Euro 2016 - too little, too late

The list is getting smaller. More people are RSVPing to the invitation. Despite the break-up of Europe in the last quarter of a century, these latecomers are promptly accepting. The list of European countries who've never played at a major tournament is getting smaller. Yet Finland remain on that roster.

San Marino.
Malta.
Luxembourg.
Liechtenstein.
Estonia.
Lithuania.
Moldova.
Armenia.
Macedonia.
Montenegro.
Cyprus.
Faroe Islands.
Georgia.
Kazakhstan.
Azerbaijan.
Belarus.
Finland.
Andorra.

With 24 teams qualifying for next summer's tournament, it seemed almost harder to fail than to make it. But a lot of countries have risen to the challenge, boosted by confidence and perhaps the (early) complacency of the bigger nations. Iceland and Wales were improving prior to this competition, while Northern Ireland, Austria and Albania qualified ahead of expectations.


Finland's group, at the time of the draw and with the benefit of hindsight, was the best possible. The top seeds were Greece, who'd made the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil. Hungary and Romania were tough with good (great?) historical teams. Northern Ireland hadn't qualified for anything in 30 years. Faroe Islands are still a level above the true minnows.

After winning the opening match away to Faroe Islands 1-3, the hard way after conceding a sloppy opener, it was all going perfectly to plan. But it was all downhill from there. One point from the next five matches, a draw at home to a dreadful Greek side, was terminal.

In defeats to Hungary home and away, in Belfast and to visiting Romania, Finland looked pedestrian, ponderous and without the perspective to see what was wrong. Mixu Paatelainen was the manager with the backing of the Finnish FA, but looked utterly clueless and left behind while other sides played to their strengths. He persisted with the Christmas tree formation (4-3-2-1), designed almost to hamstring the players rather than improve them. A good coach should make the team better than the sum of their parts - how can a side with Roman Eremenko, Tim Sparv and Niklas Moisander look so impotent? The blind faith is admirable, but did Teemu Pukki do enough to deserve his regular starting place? 

Paatelainen was sacked after the Hungary defeat in June, where a very public recruitment process led to former New York Red Bulls boss Hans Backe's appointment - but not until January as he had more pressing television commitments (he'll do well in Finland with that). Long time assistant Markku Kanerva stepped into the breach, to his credit he did well with two wins followed by two draws.


Maybe it was due to the handbrake being removed, or the players being allowed more freedom in those four fixtures. The side moved to a 4-4-2, Pohjanpalo scoring three times and there seemed a bit more vibrancy. Despite the loss of Eremenko to injury, Moisander only featuring once and suspensions at various points to Sparv, Hetemaj and Halsti; there was more positivity and it's got to be a good sign at the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser in Bucharest.

The Olympiastadion is now closed for renovations and the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will all be played at the Ratina stadium in Tampere. It's a much tougher group (Iceland, Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey) with only one guaranteed qualifier. Due to the poor performances under Mixu, Finland's FIFA ranking dropped so low that they are the bottom seed in that group. Had the draw been made with October's rankings, Finland could have been as high as third seeds.

Most of the players (if not all) will still be available for selection come September 2016, while the year will give extra development time to prospects like Thomas Lam and Jere Uronen. Lukas Hradecky and Pohjanpalo cemented their places as starters and the U21s have made a decent start to qualifying for their Euro adventure.

Ultimately the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 is a failure. Mixu should have been relieved of his job earlier, if not after before. I don't know a lot about Hans Backe, my main doubt is of the FA's selection process, going for an easy option, possibly the cheapest. Kanerva restored some pride and performances, it's unclear yet if he'll remain on Backe's staff.


Onwards and upwards, OI SUOMI ON!