Showing posts with label Haka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Haka. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Veikkausliiga 2013 - not all about the money

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

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

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

Will any of these clubs join the 2013 party?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Veikkausliiga in numbers - Lahti and the bottom three

My first season in numbers post seemed fairly popular, and the length of it was such that I couldn't possibly fit too much in. So I've decided to write a second, featuring newly promoted FC Lahti and the battle to avoid the drop. Enjoy.

Lahti - finishing strongly

FC Lahti's return to top flight in football in 2012 was potentially difficult - despite getting promoted at the first attempt, their previous campaign in 2010 ended with them finishing bottom. With the benefit of hindsight, they actually performed well, winning the games that mattered at the end of the series. They finished the season in fifth place, despite a goal difference of minus four.

Their season was moving along for the first two thirds, as the graph below shows. It would have been reasonable to assume that their final eleven games would have yielded 14 points, leaving them in a lower half position. But the final ten matches yielded seven wins, with defeats only to a fighting Jaro and the match that practically won the title for HJK.

 Lahti's season divided into three - their final 11 games yielded 22 points

No player scored more than seven league goals (Ariel Ngueukam and Drilon Shala), something which they will need to improve upon in 2013. The veteran striker Rafael scored five times in 27 matches - at 34 years old he won't have many more seasons left in him, although his status as a fan's favourite will allow him matches for as long as he wishes to stay (he featured in a Guardian article this autumn about Brazilian exiles in Northern Europe, and spoke of how he loves Lahti).

Lahti otherwise have some promising young players, and will face a battle to keep them at the club before kicking off in 2013. Joel Mero and Matti Klinga have had trials in Germany since the end of the season (at Mönchengladbach and Schalke respectively), while Nikolai Alho has returned to HJK. An extra home game will boost the coffers. But they will need to score more goals.

Over the season, they didn't take more than six points off any opponent - but won at least once against every team they faced. They won twice against TPS, Honka, VPS, KuPS and Haka. In fact they only drew twice in their 33 matches, at home to MYPA in May and away to Mariehamn in September.

Lahti's performance against their rivals in 2012

They conceded 49 goals, the most of the top eight teams. Conceding ten goals to Inter in their three games skews that slightly, but they only kept three clean sheets in the final fifteen matches.

The bottom three - Haka, Jaro and KuPS

As part of the season reviews, it would be wrong to ignore the battle to avoid relegation. The main three participants were Haka, Jaro and KuPS. Haka had been been in decline for a number of years (since their second placed finish in 2007, they had finished 8th, 6th, 8th and 10th). Jaro had finished 11th in 2011, but survived relegation by eight points, and had scored an impressive 49 goals. KuPS finished in the top half in 2011 and made it to the cup final and had a Europa League campaign to look forward to.

The graph below illustrates how close the bottom three were throughout the season, with KuPS only pulling away in the final ten matches, even bottom for a while in June.

The bottom three team (Haka, Jaro, KuPS) in 2012

Haka had lost Pekka Sihvola to MYPA, who went on to score 14 goals for his new club, and they finished with a league worst goal difference of -25, skewed by the 9-2 drubbing at TPS in August. They kept only five clean sheets in 33 games, two of those coming in the their final two matches (which they won both 1-0). Failing to score in nearly half of their matches (fifteen) explains why their top scorer was player of the year Shane Robinson (who has already announced his departure) with eight goals.

The infamous multi-ball incident was painful, but that match at home to HJK ended in a rare draw - they only achieved five in 2012, but Haka lost 19 of their 33 matches (7 out of 16 home games). For 2013, they've already changed their manager, but need to improve their home form to have a crack at returning to the top division at the first attempt.

Haka's match results (wins, draws, losses)

Jaro finished 11th for the second consecutive season, and this was a lot closer, only securing their Veikkausliiga place for 2013 by winning at TPS on the final day of the season. The statistic screaming out between 2011 and 2012 is the huge decrease in goals scored. 49 goals scored (a final goal difference of -15 is impressive for the second bottom side) became 28 goals, and a goal difference of -23. They too made a poor start, with just two wins in their first 11 matches, while they were bottom for a long period between weeks 21 and 27.

Some of this can be put down to individual form (Jussi Aalto didn't score in 20 games), while they had to rely on seven goals from Frank Jonke and three goals in seven games from HJK loanee Sherif Ashraf. They survived 2012 by the skin of their teeth, and will have a resurgent RoPS to contend with to avoid the bottom in 2013.

Frequency of goals scored by Jaro in 2012

KuPS were in the Europa League for the second consecutive season, but certainly weren't expecting to be in a relegation struggle after a good sixth place finish in 2011. But losing players like Dickson Nwakaeme and Fikru Tefera saw them lose sources of goals, and one win (against Haka) in their first eleven games looked ominous. Luckily they were still in touch with Jaro, and eventually caught up, but were only mathematically safe with two matches left. But during the summer, KuPS coach Esa Pekonen suggested there were too many matches, despite his side getting through to the third qualifying round of their European journey, and winning their first leg with Bursaspor 1-0. The run came to an end with a 6-0 defeat in the second leg in Turkey.

Their form after European games wasn't awful, their form in the five games after European ties (they had a week off after the 2nd leg v Llanelli) was DWLLW. They finished with a goal difference of -14, conceding 53 goals, including conceding 6 at home to Inter in July. It wasn't a classic season, and they have already lost Atte Hoivala to VPS while Jerry Voutilainen has recently had a trial with Queens Park Rangers. They will face a struggle to finish in the top half in 2013, but they still reached the Suomen Cup final so there is some optimism, despite the 1-0 defeat to Honka.

KuPS form during their Europa League run (league results in blue, Euro in red)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 33 - HJK champions, Haka drop to Ykkönen

The final round of matches of the season begun in fields of freezing cold and snow. Winter is coming, and it while the main drama was at the foot of the table, things weren't 100% certain at the top. The mathematics were simple. An HJK win or draw in Jyväskylä would give them a fourth straight championship. If they lost by one goal, Inter would need to win at Honka by eight goals. Highly unlikely, and so it proved.

HJK had stumbled along this season, not leading for a lot of the year while Inter led the way. But the pretenders were dropping points, and HJK's experience and squad depth powered them through. Faced with a tricky finish at JJK, the snow and ice were cleared enough to allow the game to go ahead, and HJK flew out of the blocks, with three goals in the first twenty minutes, goals from Sebastian Mannström, Rasmus Schüller and Joel Pohjanpalo. The title was won, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves. They went 0-5 ahead in the second half, a smooth finish from Berat Sadik and a second for Pohjanpalo. JJK took advantage of some early celebrations, Antto Hilska got two goals in a minute, before another Sadik goal was answered with a third JJK goal by Topi Järvinen.

The proposed opening of the stands for the HJK fans went ahead, and only a few well behaved supporters reached the players, allaying fears of what was fearer to be an officially sanctioned pitch invasion. HJK were presented with their trophy, and start a new era next year under Sixten Boström, and hopefully a better showing in the 2013/14 Champions League.

Outgoing HJK boss Antti Muurinen

HJK's win made Inter's game at Honka fairly meaningless - They were guaranteed second place, as they were four points ahead of local rivals TPS. Cup winners Honka had no chance of reaching the top half of the table, but ended the season on a high with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Inter. Jussi Vasara gave them a first half lead, before goals from Mäkijärvi and Äijälä gave them the three points, and ensured Inter's season finished with a whimper. Irakli Sirbiladze couldn't add to his goal tally for the season, and ends on 17 goals (although there may be some complaints about his second at TPS in September). Mika Ojala said farewell to the Inter fans on Twitter after the game, he's set to move to Häcken in Sweden for 2013.

 Koskinen gets in the way without much fight

Inter's silver medal

The foot of the table is where the drama of the day was (not that the Finnish broadcasters thought so, Kutonen showed JJK v HJK while Urho showed Honka v Inter). Jaro were the ones with the advantage, although only a point. They were visiting third placed TPS, whose own title ambitions drifted away due to some poor form when it mattered. The hosts took the lead after 41 minutes, Konsta Rasimus with his first goal from the club. But the lead didn't last long, Jaro equalised after a goal two minutes later from Thomas Kula, and Egyptian loan signing (from HJK) Sherif Ashraf scored his third goal in three games to win the match 2-1, and preserve Jaro's top flight status for another year. Their recent form wasn't too bad, winning three of the last six games, but they will need to improve hugely in 2013 to survive another season.

Jaro will be playing in the Veikkausliiga in 2013

 TPS enjoy their bronze medals

Highlights of TPS 1-2 Jaro

Jaro's win meant that Haka were relegated no matter what. Haka had won their first match in three months last week, and started the day with a chance of staying up, but they had to rely on Jaro dropping points. Haka's visit to Vaasa was dangerous, knowing they had to win, but facing a team who had nothing to play for but pride. But the hosts were reduced to ten men on half an hour, with O'Brien Woodbine dismissed, shortly followed by a goal from Brazilian Dema, giving Haka the lead. Both teams had chances to score afterwards, but the match finished 0-1, and despite finishing 2012 with two wins, Haka will be playing in the Ykkönen next season.

 The travelling Haka fans keep singing

Highlights of VPS 0-1 Haka

While the other two matches had little influence on titles, relegation or medals, they still provided excitement. This season's new boys Lahti have finished the season strongly, and will get an extra game in 2013 thanks to a top half finish. They confirmed fifth place with a 2-1 victory over a KuPS team who will just be glad the season is over. The Kuopio side took the lead with a goal from 17yr old Jerry Voutilainen, but Lahti took the points with goals from Nikolai Alho and Ngueukam. KuPS finish tenth, only four points ahead of Haka. At least they won't have any European football to distract them next year...

 Alho celebrates his first goal

The final match was in Mariehamn, fourth placed IFK hosting MYPA. The visitors took the lead after just seven minutes, Pekka Sihvola's 14th goal of the season. But IFK hit back through Mattias Wiklöf on 26 minutes, and an early second half penalty from Aleksei Kangaskolkka. But MYPA equalised, Canadian Riley O'Neill's goal making it 2-2, and that's how it finished. IFK stay 4th, but MYPA dropped to sixth after Lahti's win.

 Kangaskolkka puts his penalty away for goal number 16

Highlights of IFKM 2-2 MYPA

So that's the final round of matches, and a full season review will follow. HJK are the champions, Inter, TPS and Honka will enter the Europa League, while Haka will be playing in the second division in 2013, to be replaced by RoPS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 32 - HJK champions-elect, Jaro stumble, Haka find a lifeline

HJK have one hand and four fingers on the their fourth consecutive title, and the thumb merely hopes for a point at JJK, or if they lose, Inter to win at Honka with a goal difference swing of eight goals or fewer. Given that Betfair are currently quoting odds of 1/100 that they'll win the title, they're being charitable to Inter's chances.

HJK hadn't lost at home in the league since 2010, anything other than a home win was unlikely, despite Lahti's impressive late season form. Two wins and the title was staying in Helsinki. In the end, it was about as routine as a home 2-0 gets - a penalty early in the second half, converted by Berat Sadik, and a late confirmation from Demba Savage. A maximum points total of 64, is still a huge drop on last year's 81 under the same structure.

 Opening scorer Berat Sadik in action

It was Antti Muurinen's final home game in charge, he's to be replaced by former HJK player Sixten Boström for 2013, and at the end of the match he was hoisted around the ground by his players. Will the change lead to an improvement in HJK's European fortunes? HJK's final match is away to JJK on Saturday, before the party, and the hard work starting again. Lahti are at least assured of a top half finish, a good return to the top division, they end the season at home to KuPS.

 Muurinen bids farewell to the HJK fans

Highlights of HJK 2-0 Lahti

Inter meanwhile knew that they'd need to beat TPS to keep any realistic chance of the title - the intro of this review gives away that they failed. A stalemate, a red card, and a silver medal are all they have to show. The knowledge that rotten form when it counted cost them the title, that having the league's top scorer (Sirbiladze) and top assist provider (Mika Ojala) wasn't enough. Another crack at the Europa League will have been the minimum requirement, and Job Dragtsma will have to work hard to do better in 2013, without Ojala at least. The red card for Antunez for a shove won't have helped, but it will be a footnote in another missed chance for Inter.

Antunez before his red card

Highlights of Inter 0-0 TPS

At the foot of the table, the battle may have been further from the radar, but was no less keenly fought. Haka had failed to win since the 15th of July, since then they've suffered a 9-2 humiliation to TPS, and the subsequent change of manager... They were at home to Suomen Cup winners Honka, who have been undergoing their own problems (see previous review about financial peril) since their triumph. Nothing but a win would do (as results elsewhere proved). It was a tough match, seven bookings (two of them went to Haka captain, and player of the year, Shane Robinson), but only one goal, a neat finish from Juha Pirinen. Haka are still in the fight, and have one last match at VPS. The mathematics will be covered after the review of Jaro's match...

Haka enjoy a rare triumph

Highlights of Haka 1-0 Honka

So to Jaro... A home game against an IFK team who still had a chance of qualifying for Europe. Jaro were three points clear of Haka, with a superior goal difference. A win would give them as much chance of staying up as HJK have of winning the league - almost definite. Could things have started any better? It took eleven seconds for loan signing Sherif Ashraf to put Jaro ahead, before Jonas Emet made it 2-0 after twenty minutes with a low drive from outside the box. It all looked over for Haka, and perhaps Jaro knew it. Mariehamn pulled a goal back before the break through Jagne after a poor keeper error, but Frank Jonke re-established the two goal cushion four minutes into the second half. A fairly soft penalty award gave Kangaskolkka a goal on 82', and a late deflected strike from Amos Ekhalie deep into injury time took Jaro's win away.

Highlights of Jaro 3-3 IFK Mariehamn

The situation at the bottom is this: Jaro are away to TPS on Saturday. Win, and they stay up. Draw, and a Haka win will keep Haka up. If Jaro lose, and Haka draw, then it comes down to goal difference. Jaro are currently on -24, Haka on -26. It's going to be more exciting at the bottom than the top this weekend.

Two other matches remained, and forgive me for not giving them a huge amount of coverage. KuPS were mathematically safe as a result of Jaro's defeat at the weekend, and after a season which had great highs (beating Bursaspor in the Europa League), a tenth placed finish and cup runners-up is a pretty poor showing. A home match against VPS meant more to the visitors, who needed to win to keep a chance of finishing in the top half, but it ended up with three points to KuPS. Ali Koljonen opened the scoring, before Steven Morrissey's fifteenth goal of the season levelled the match. The winning goal came from Dudu, and that was it.

 Dudu gets the praise (courtesy of Futisblogi Puoliaika)

The final match was MYPA versus JJK. The hosts were made safe in the top half by VPS's defeat, but needed to make sure an extra home game for 2013. But the nerves were frayed by an early goal by Mikko Manninen, and it took until the 74th minute for MYPA to get level, an own goal by Tuomanen, before Pekka Sihvola's 13th league goal of the season sealed the win. Sihvola is now fourth in the Goal King race, a decent return in his first season since his move from Haka.

Highlights of MYPA 2-1 JJK

Friday, October 05, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 29 - Inter choke after HJK controversy

This week has seen a huge interest in Finnish football from across the world, although perhaps not for the reasons the marketing department within the Finnish FA would have hoped. It was not for a tremendous piece of skill, or for the emergence of a great talent. This was for a controversial moment in a huge game which had an impact at both ends of the table, and one which has made it's way onto millions of computers and smartphones, retweeted by popular websites, and analysed to death.

The match was Haka v HJK, bottom v top. Monday night saw the resumption of league football after the Suomen Cup final took pride of place. Haka had already beaten TPS at home this season, and were hoping to repeat the feat against the champions. Things were looking fantastic, as Haka took a two goal lead, through goals from Shane Robinson and Kris Bright, before controversy struck...

The ref didn't get the updated dress code

Now plenty of people have been quick to quote the rules stating that technically the goal was correct as the referee deemed that the throw-in nearer the halfway line was not interfering with play... But does that console the players, officials or fans of Haka? To be 2-0 up against the leaders, and to concede a goal like that is galling. The goal was credited to Juho Mäkelä, and to rub it in, Valtteri Moren then equalised eight minutes later. Some may say justice was done thanks to a late penalty miss by Akseli Pelvas, but it's no consolation, and the game finished 2-2. Not ideal for either, with Haka still bottom, and HJK only gaining a point.

The video has come to light in several guises, with this blog from Futisblogi Puoliaika (in Finnish) analysing the incident in fantastic detail. Much like the famous beach ball incident in the game between Sunderland and Liverpool, it has highlighted a little known rule of the game, and created huge debate. Is it for the better? Hard to say.

HJK's day took a greater turn with the match between in-form Lahti and title challengers TPS. Lahti had won 13 out of 15 points, elevating themselves into the top half of the table; while TPS had only lost one game in ten, albeit at home to HJK. In the end, a late goal from Drilon Shala won the game 1-0 for Lahti, who sit in fifth after the week's games. TPS meanwhile lie in third, two points behind HJK. Their manager Marc Rajamäki said that his team are just trying to collect as many points as they can, but there is still hope, and they still have the best goal difference.

Goalscorer Shala

The other contender was Inter, with what looked like a simple home game against Suomen Cup runners-up KuPS. Or so they thought... Inter's recent form was stinking the league out, with four consecutive draws costing them their lead, while KuPS have been unpredictable all season, interspersed with their European campaign. But it was the visitors who took the lead, Purje with a goal just before the break. Amazingly, KuPS went 2-0 up through Pietari Holopainen, before a consolation from leading goalscorer Irakli Sirbiladze (now on 16 for the season). Chris James sealed a shock result with two goals, KuPS winning 4-1. Inter now haven't won in over a month, while KuPS have opened a gap of seven points between them and bottom placed Haka.

Highlights of Inter 1-4 KuPS

Meanwhile, the cup winners (and fourth entrant to the 2013/14 Europa League) entertained MYPA on Thursday evening. Did the recent glory of a first ever Suomen Cup victory bring the crowds in from all over Espoo? Er, no. 604 people were in attendance, meaning the Tapiolan Urheilupuisto, capacity 5500, meaning only 11% of the stadium was occupied. Pretty poor form really, but also indicative of the fact that in league terms, the game meant very little. The match itself saw the home team take the lead in the first half, Antti Mäkijärvi's free kick flying over the MYPA keeper and into the top corner - one for the video scrapbook. Honka had plenty of chances to finish the match off, but a low drive from substitute Ville Saxman secured a point for MYPA. The result leaves Honka in 8th place, MYPA in 5th.

Highlight of Honka 1-1 MYPA

Jaro travelled to Vaasa having not lost in four matches, beating Honka most recently. But their good run was to come to an end against a Steven Morrissey-inspired VPS. The Jamaican bagged his 14th league goal of the season after 17 minutes, pouncing on a defensive mix-up. Morrissey then turned provider, playing a nice through ball for Robin Lod to score after more poor play in the Jaro defence. A last minute consolation from Frank Jonke could still be important for goal difference, with Jaro just one point ahead of Haka, and a GD advantage of three goals.

Highlights of VPS 2-1 Jaro

The other match of the week was in Jyväskylä, where JJK hosted an IFK Mariehamn team with dwindling title ambitions. JJK were looking for a first win in five, starting the match in ninth place; while Mariehamn were losing touch with the leading three teams, despite a recent run which almost took them back into contention. JJK scored twice in the first half, Markkanen and Innanen with the goals - but IFKM levelled through second half goals from Robin Östlind and Kangaskolkka with his 14th league goal. But the goal jolted JJK back into life, Eero Markkanen scored again in the 82nd minute to seal the win for JJK, and a ninth goal in 12 games.

After a controversial week, the league table remains unchanged. But two points cover the top three teams, and only ten points cover the top seven. At the bottom, KuPS now have a seven point gap, but Haka have narrowed the abyss to one point.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 24 - Three adrift at the bottom

Next season's guaranteed new team have been confirmed (RoPS have won the Ykkonen at a canter, they're currently seventeen points clear with four games to go), and one would imagine there would be an almighty battle to avoid being replaced by them. Well, at the moment the battle is more like three moody lazy teenagers, hoping that their two mates are lazier than them… The teams who are getting further and further adrift at the bottom of the top division are KuPS, Haka and Jaro. They have nine games (Haka have eight) left to get enough points to avoid relegation or the play-off match against the second-placed team, who are currently SJK.

This weekend's fixtures involving the three clubs all took place on Sunday, with Jaro hosting MYPA, and Haka travelling to JJK, with KuPS visiting IFK Mariehamn. Bottom side Jaro were already two points behind Haka with a game in hand, and things started badly with Pekka Sihvola opening the scoring in the 29th minute. Sihvola has now scored eight goals in his last five league games, and the scoreline quickly became 2-0 and 3-0 towards the end. Jaro remain bottom, and luckily Haka's attempts at apparently playing rush goalie are keeping them ahead on goal difference. Jaro have lost their last five matches, and they won't be expecting much change from their visit to Helsinki in their next match on September 14th.

Highlights of Jaro 0-3 MYPA

Haka visited Jyväskylä and carried on where they've left off in recent games - they shipped five goals, seventeen in their last three, and have got one point from the last twenty-four available. Already missing Obi Metzger after his red card against Lahti, they went into the interval 1-0 down. But after the break, they conceded three goals in fourteen minutes, including a brace from Mikko Innanen. An injury time goal sealed a 5-0 victory, and has now pretty much confirmed JJK's participation in next season's competition. Haka meanwhile have a goal difference of -25, two goals worse off than Jaro. They may come to regret their recent thrashings come October.

 Benno Haslian celebrates JJK's fifth goal

The other struggling side in action were KuPS, visiting Mariehamn. They had picked up a bit of form after their European exit, and had won their Suomen Cup semi-final in midweek, but were facing a team who still had distant title ambitions. That they lasted until the 78th minute without conceding a goal is a credit, but in the end substitute Bosnian Ermin Gadžo scored twice, and KuPS went back to Kuopio with nothing other than relief that their nearest rivals all lost by greater margins.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 2-0 KuPS

The remaining matches between the three teams are as follows: Jaro v KuPS on Fri 14th Sept, Haka v Jaro on Sun 23rd Sept, KuPS v Haka on Sun 7th Oct (subject to change). These matches will have huge bearings on the final positions, and we can hope that they don't end up as damp squibs.

 The bottom three as it stands

The mid-table Friday night match between Lahti and Honka was actually the most entertaining game of the weekend. The visitors finally learned their Cup final opponents the previous night, and went ahead through another Tim Väyrynen goal after six minutes. It was the 19-year-old's tenth goal of the season, nine of which have opened the scoring, a fantastic record. Unfortunately for him and his Espoo-based teammates, Lahti responded with three goals in the second half. Recent signing Ariel Ngueukam scored twice in three minutes, and Drilon Shala scored a third goal, which proved crucial. A late consolation goal in injury time from Honka's Antti Mäkijärvi meant little, and Lahti won 3-2. It was Lahti's third win in four, and leaves them on the outskirts of the race for the Europa League. Honka are ninth, and while it's highly unlikely that they'd be drawn into the relegation battle, they have little else other than the cup final against KuPS in four weeks time.

Highlights of Lahti 3-2 Honka

I suppose the title race itself is what the people want. Sunday's early match was between the teams in second and third place, with TPS hosting champions HJK. HJK had played an entertaining 3-3 draw with Athletic Bilbao on Thursday, finally confirming their elimination from Europe 9-3 on aggregate. This match was virtually over by half-time, first half goals from Mika Väyrynen (again, a tidy chip over the keeper) and Juho Mäkelä saw HJK take a 2-0 lead, although TPS did have chances. A 90th minute goal from Santeri Mäkinen merely served to maintain a decent goal difference lead for TPS. HJK are now three points ahead on 43 points, TPS are third on 40, level with Mariehamn but with the superior GD.

 Highlights of TPS 1-2 HJK

The final match kicked off on Monday evening with leaders Inter knowing that they would need a win to reclaim their four point lead, and win they did. A routine 2-0 victory over VPS took them to 47 points, with Irakli Sirbiladze celebrating his Georgian call-up with goals in each half. The striker is now top scorer with 13 goals, and will be sure to add more in the remaining nine league games.

Next week sees a break for international football, with Finland opening their qualification for the 2014 World Cup with a home match against France, followed by a game between some Finnish legends and some former international stars, billed as a Respect match. Finland's team features Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypiä and Joonas Kolkka, and will be a chance for the fans to see their heroes one more time.