Showing posts with label KTP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label KTP. Show all posts

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Veikkausliiga 2015 - SJK triumph

The curtain comes down on another season of Veikkausliiga, and it was a hum-dinger. Not many leagues in Europe reach the final day with all the play for a both ends of the season. The last round of 2015 got plenty of people excited, not just for the prospect of a different champions for the first time in since 2008. HJK had won six titles in a row, yet they still had a slim chance of retaining their crown.

The bottom end of the table still had unresolved issues too. VPS had looked in danger of relegation for most of the season, but a good run (after a change of manager) meant that while they could still be dragged into a play-off against PK-35 Vantaa, they just needed to better KTP's result. Jaro had slipped to last place after a rotten run with one win in fifteen games, they needed to win at SJK to have a hope of avoiding automatic relegation.

Finnish champions SJK (image via Facebook)

In the end, SJK scored in opening and closing minutes to win 2-0, securing a first ever league title and sending Jaro down. It was a nervy match, Jaro threatened but couldn't make it. A draw would have gifted the title to RoPS, who won 1-4 at Lahti, helped by a third hat-trick of the season from Aleksandr Kokko. HJK managed a hard-fought 0-1 win at KuPS but could only secure bronze.

All outcomes covered at Lahti (image via Risto Oksanen)

The relegation play-off will feature KTP, who lost 1-2 to Ilves but due to Jaro's loss, they finish 11th. VPS lost at IFK Mariehamn but will be relieved to open their new stadium in Veikkausliiga. The two-legged match between KTP and PK-35 Vantaa will be tense, but potentially entertaining if Shefki Kuqi's side come up.

So how was the league won and lost?

Well I saved the "HJK in crisis" blog until the season was over. I think better writers than I have done good work on this topic, while it feels like I'd just be sticking the boot in. Ultimately they were decimated by injuries to key players, but a transfer approach resembling a closing time trolley dash in Lidl was just as damaging. The shameless attempt at attracting Japanese fans resulted in Atom Tanaka (who did well) and Mike Havenaar (shockingly poor), African journeymen Taiwo, Jallow, Mendy, Moussi and Kandji were a mixed bag, and little confidence in goalkeepers. HJK had been so wonderfully run off the field, but this year has been a smack in the chops. Expect wholesale changes for next year.

SJK retained the majority of the squad who performed so well to come second last year. A solid spine of Mikhel Aksalu in goal, Savić and Gogoua in defence with Mehmet Hetemaj, Brown, Vasara and Tahvanainen in midfield provided solidity and some spark going forward, while the addition of Akseli Pelvas provided goals, but it was two summer signings who added the final solution. Brazilian midfielder Allan Souza joined on loan from Liverpool and Roope Riski added eight goals in 13 matches up front.

I doubt Allan is ready yet for Premier League football, but SJK have acknowledged that they may not be able to keep him for next season. But they too will move into a new stadium, with Champions League football and a championship trophy to show off.

Allan key to SJK title win?

Ultimately, SJK were the most consistent side over the season and were well deserving of their win - but what about the other challenger?

RoPS hadn't been great in 2014, finishing ninth in the table and hardly looking like title candidates. But it was already evident that coach Juha Malinen was building something. Faith Friday Obilor was one of the top defenders and continued to develop, attracting interest from big clubs in Turkey. Aleksandr Kokko had been out of contract but re-signed for the season, ending up as top scorer with seventeen goals (including three hat-tricks). The creative addition was Finland U21 midfielder Moshtagh Yaghoubi, who had been stuck in contract limbo between Latvia and Russia. Mosa provided a threat from set pieces (scoring a number of free kicks), a spark and a little bit more fire in the centre of the park. Of course he deserves to be docked points for taking a selfie after his goal against KuPS in October, but hey ho, he did well and will surely get a more solid move now.

Special mention needs to go to two of the promoted clubs, HIFK and Ilves. HIFK's entirely Finnish squad competed well at the top level, while their fans brought a lot of noise and smoke, making next season's Helsinki derbies the hottest tickets in town. Ilves came up after the demise of MYPA, against the wishes of some fans, and while they hit the headlines for strange reasons (the sacking of TV star Keith Armstrong), another great set of fans and solid performances ensured top flight football again in 2016.

Off the pitch, Veikkausliiga had a good year. The availability of every match live via Ilta-Sanomat was a huge hit, other than the matches where the technical gremlins prevented broadcast. State broadcaster YLE also showed games on terrestrial TV, including the "Futiskierros" format of showing goals as they go in from all the other grounds. Average attendances were good with a total of over 500k attendees, boosted by the three HIFK v HJK games and some good turnouts at Ilves. The league are still lacking a decent international broadcast partner, even I have to use less-than-legal means to watch games as the approved streams are via little screens on betting sites.

Ultimately 2015 was a great season, with plenty of drama and as always, eccentric moments on and off the pitch. I'll come back later with summaries, while I've no idea what I'll do until the new season kicks off in April. I'll leave you with a picture of my dog Woody in an SJK shirt. Perhaps next time I bump into Wayne Brown in a cafe at the top of my road, I'll get him to sign it...

Unfortunately SJK unfollowed me on Twitter (which I've yet to moan properly about), I suppose they've got better things to do. For shame.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

2015 Veikkausliiga season preview

It's that time of year again - the new Veikkausliiga season begins on Sunday 12th April 2015.

It's been a winter of big changes, not least that we have three new teams joining us. HIFK (Helsinki) were promoted by winning the 2014 Ykkönen division after a last minute winner in their final match. Meanwhile, KTP (Kotka) were then themselves promoted when Honka were refused a licence after their financial chaos (they will now play in Kakkonen) while MYPA currently don't exist in any form, with Ilves of Tampere taking their place.

HIFK will play their matches at the Sonera Stadion (home of HJK), while KTP are scheduled to play their first two home matches at MYPA's ground as their pitch probably won't be ready. Needless to say, HIFK and Ilves have already had their first matches postponed, while Jaro's first home match will be played at an alternative pitch due to the weather.

For the first time, Veikkausliiga referees will be using 'vanishing' spray for free kicks, although I've not heard an alternative for the snowy conditions... Meanwhile all teams will now be using the Select Brillant Super football, after the expiry of HJK's deal with Adidas; with the referees rocking the 1980s finest in Patrick.

Once again, HJK will be the Finnish entry into the Champions League qualifiers, they join in round two. In the Europa League, SJK, FC Lahti and VPS will play in the qualifying rounds, while KuPS await confirmation that they will receive the UEFA Fair Play place.

I'll do a quick preview of each club, along with a photo of their new jersey. I must warn you in advance - I don't bet on football, so don't hold me responsible for any bets you place on the information I write... I'm completely independent! I will admit to being a supporter of KuPS, but there won't be any bias - I don't do predictions. Feel free to gawp at the kits, in all their sponsored glory. Most of the clubs have online shops, see the tab at the top of the page for links.

HJK (2014 position - 1st)

Champions yet again last year, but they started badly under coach Sixten Boström and he was promptly sacked and replaced by former player Mika Lehkosuo. Klubi made it into the group stage of the Europa League and didn't disgrace themselves, Robin Lod and Gideon Baah the star performers. They've made huge inroads into the Japanese market signing midfielder Atom Tanaka (left) and striker Mike Havenaar, along with experienced Swedish keeper Daniel Örlund and former Nottingham Forest midfielder Guy Moussi. Massive favourites to win a seventh consecutive title, and will look to make a more competitive tilt at the Champions League group stage. Won the pre-season Liigacup.
SJK (2014 position - 2nd)

The team from Seinäjoki surprised many by claiming the silver medal in 2014, their first season in the top flight. They are in a stronger financial position than most, perhaps performing at par with the budget table. A new stadium is on the way, but will play their Europa League games in Helsinki. They brought in English midfielder Wayne Brown (left) from TPS last autumn, while former Celtic striker Bahrudin Atajić will be the key man up front. Manager Simo Valakari is constantly improving the side, who last year looked intelligent and progressive. Hard to see anyone beating HJK to the title, but they'll be chasing hard. I interviewed their Welsh defender Richie Dorman over the winter, well worth a read.
FC Lahti (2014 position - 3rd)

Another side who had an indifferent start to 2014, but sufficiently rallied to make their first European campaign in their current form. They were led by the veteran Brazilian striker Rafael, who scored 13 goals in 28 matches and will turn 37 this summer. They have lost promising midfielder Matti Klinga to HJK, but former Werder Bremen man Pekka Lagerblom replaces him. They too have stadium issues, a campaign led by Jari Litmanen to refurbish Kisapuisto is taking a long time, while the famous ski jump stadium is in a poor state of repair. They have extended the Brazilian contingent at the club to include Fluminense loanees Leandro Motta (left) and Matheus Alves. Europa League is likely to be the most realistic aim for this year.
VPS (2014 position - 4th)

More pitch updates (their new stadium has been approved, their Europa League games will be played in Oulu) but still making the top half last year. They won the first leg of their tie with Swedish club IF Brommapojkarna but were defeated 3-2 on aggregate, qualifying for this year's competition after HJK won the Suomen Cup, ensuring they took the final place. They aren't the biggest scorers, awful luck with Jamaican striker Steven Morrissey being ruled out for most of 2015 with a knee injury, after missing most of last year with an arm injury. Pictured left is new signing Jerry Voutilainen, a graduate from the KuPS school of midfielders. Talismanic captain Seba Strandvall has moved to Austria, will be a huge miss.
IFK Mariehamn (2014 position - 5th)

The entertaining Islanders from Åland have started their pre-season in their usual style, with 17 goals (SEVENTEEN) in their two Suomen Cup ties at the time of writing, Jamaican striker Dever Orgill with seven of them. They had re-signed former hitman Aleksei Kangaskolkka but he was struck down by injury. The mean looking man to the left is Kenyan midfielder Amos Ekhalie, who provides plenty of power along with a goal threat. Their key man continues to be Petteri Forsell, who'll shoot from anywhere but resembles a younger (slimmer) Tomas Brolin. His move to Turkey in 2012 didn't work out, but he'll surely end up elsewhere if he continues.
FF Jaro (2014 position - 6th)

The latest in the Eremenko dynasty, 16-year-old Sergei (left), looks set to take centre stage this season as my friends in Pietarsaari take the field. His dad, coach Alexei, remains in charge despite being previously linked with HJK, while the team are one of the most inconsistent in the division. The loss of Hendrik Helmke to Al Ahly and Shahdon Winchester to the United States leave big shoes to fill - but they kept last year's top scorer Jonas Emet, who did have a trial with English club Fleetwood but remains. They have one of the more cosmopolitan rosters, with players from Guyana, Canada, Kenya and Brazil. I will put on record I'm not keen on the Sagafurs sponsor on the jersey, you can probably figure out their business without Google...
KuPS (2014 position - 7th)

Now world famous after their capture of former prodigy Freddy Adu, there is plenty else to be excited about in Kuopio. Former maalikuningas (league top scorer) Irakli Sirbiladze joins from Inter Turku, with ETS interviewee Dani Hatakka arriving from Honka and the "Savon Riquelme" Petteri Pennanen from RoPS. They looked doomed at the start of 2014, but Esa Pekonen was soon replaced by Marko Rajamäki and fortunes picked up. A likely tilt at the Europa League beckons, assuming the almost-guaranteed Fair Play place comes to Finland as per usual. The new shirt sported by Juha Hakola (left) will be emblazoned by a rather large cockerel from a drink manufacturer.
FC Inter Turku (2014 position - 9th)

A disappointing couple of years has seen Inter drop from title contenders to flirting with relegation. Job Dragtsma continues as manager, they reached the Finnish cup final and lost on penalties to HJK after a dreary 0-0 in normal time. Sirbiladze is gone, but the so-called "Finnish Zlatan" Vahid Hambo (left) will take his place up front, having previously been at Ilves and Sampdoria's academy side. The other major arrival was former TPS keeper Jukka Lehtovaara, greeted at the Turku derby cup tie with a banner saying "Once our captain, now a traitor - fuck you Lehtovaara". The tie also saw Hambo get a red card for a tasty retaliation. If this is a sign of things to come, Inter could be rather fun to watch this season...
RoPS (2014 position - 10th)

Look familiar? It's Hradecky, but not as we know it. Midfielder Tomas, brother of Finland keeper Lukas, is the poster boy. The team from the North reached the Liigacup final in pre-season before losing to HJK, but have added one very exciting asset - U21 midfielder Moshtagh Yaghoubi was finally freed from his Latvian contract purgatory and was snapped up despite interest from HIFK, where he was training. That is a tremendous signing which could easily propel the club a few places higher. They were pretty solid in defence last year, while keeping Aleksandr Kokko up front is also crucial. Not going to threaten the European places, but I reckon they'll do better than last year. Don't quote me on that...
HIFK (2014 Ykkönen position - 1st)

Their dramatic promotion saw scenes of jubilation, from more than just the HIFK supporters - the prospect of a proper Helsinki derby in the top division will be a welcome return. The club have taken great pride is assembling an entirely Finnish squad, picking up plenty of experience, such as former MYPA captain Tuomas Aho (left), along with former HJK prospect Fredrik Lassas and Youness Rahimi, who once had a trial with PSV Eindhoven. Surely the sole aim will be to consolidate their Veikkausliiga status, but they could certainly upset the applecart - they didn't reach the semi-finals of the Liigacup for nothing, including a 6-0 pumping of Inter Turku in the group stage. The games against HJK will see a tremendous atmosphere, well worth catching if you can get a ticket - the first meeting will be on April 23rd.
KTP (2014 Ykkönen position - 2nd)

A proper Devon Loch job after leading the second tier for the vast majority of the year, with just three wins in their last ten league matches. They benefit from the demise of Honka, recruiting with quality in Joel Mero, Tamás Gruborovics and Nosh A Lody. They too have existed in various forms in the past, they seem to have a new name almost every week (the latest incarnation was a merge between FC KTP and KooTeePee). Ville Oksanen is the man to the left giving the Blue Steel look, while this year's jersey is sponsored by SteveCo, I imagine NigelCo, DaveCo and SebastianCo were already taken. Their April fool joke of changing their colours to orange and green fell foul of the club president, who had a public moan on Twitter.
Ilves (2014 Ykkönen position - 3rd)

Taking MYPA's place at the top table, despite the wishes of some of the fans who felt the club weren't ready, the top division returns to Tampere. Former HJK boss Keith Armstrong has come out of semi-retirement to manage the side, who will have the smallest budget of all twelve clubs. Early indications are that the club will struggle to compete, even the pitch isn't ready to host matches with the first game against KuPS being postponed. Nigerian forward Chido Ugwunna is giving the thumbs up to our left, he joins from Haka. Ilves' final match of 2014 saw them defeat already relegated Viikingit 10-0, just enough to see them finish above AC Oulu... Would Oulu have even been allowed back? I'm sure the Ilves fans will provide plenty of noise at their games, the Tammela Stadion is a rustic little ground, well worth visiting.

So that's my effort for this year - I'm still waiting to find out what the plans are for hosting footage of matches, as I've previously been allowed to provide highlights on the site. I'll update as and when. Every game will be available live on ISTV Extra, with a few select fixtures throughout the season free to air on YLE TV. Be sure to follow ETS on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest information.

Good luck to all of those taking part - it's going to be a fun six months, see you on the other side.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tulos: Things you may have missed

Some family friends of ours were visiting from Finland this week, the topic of social media popped up. They work for a online sports channel focusing on extreme sports, EpicTV, and were more than happy to talk about their experience. Essentially, Kirsti and Panu said that I should be looking to focus more on Facebook. Twitter is excellent for instant and current news, but hardly a place to catch up at your leisure. As such, I post and link to several stories which may be missed unless you're on at the time.

So I've decided to summarise the stories of interest with one blog post, I think the term is 'ICYMI'. Anyway, here's what has happened in the last couple of weeks. Future blogs will be shorter, covering perhaps a fortnight at most - the below covers most the year so far. Feedback, as always, is welcome!

Cricket scores in the Helsinki futsal third division...

Finland U21s reached the final of the Commonwealth Cup in Russia, losing 2-1 to South Africa. Their semi-final win over Turkmenistan saw two moments of bravado from the Finns. Moshtagh Yaghoubi and Dani Hatakka were involved, well worth remembering.


Finland played two internationals in Abu Dhabi - they defeated Sweden 1-0 and drew 0-0 with Yemen. The sides were mostly made up of Nordic based players, but outstanding performers in the Sweden game were Lukas Hradecky and Petteri Forsell, with a debut international goal for Roope Riski.

Former Chelsea youth player Nortei Nortey had a trial with Jaro, but failed to earn a contract.

The 2015 Liigacup began, wins for Ilves and Inter and a draw between IFK Mariehamn and HIFK. Make a note of the fixtures and results here.

The farce/saga over Veikkausliiga places rumbles on, as MYPA were denied a licence to play in the top division in 2015, Ilves promoted in their place. They have since applied to play in Ykkönen but have also appealed the decision. At the time of writing, this is still to be decided. KTP meanwhile took Honka's place - Honka will now play in Kakkonen going under the name of FC Esport Honka.

In the annual FIFPro tournament in Norway, Finland's team of free agents lost both of their matches on penalties against Ireland and Norway. Player of the tournament was former RoPS striker Aleksandr Kokko, who spoke about his desire to play abroad.

Finland defender Markus Halsti signed for MLS club DC United. He played in this season's Champions League for Malmö.

Despite several media reports of tedious speculation, Niklas Moisander confirmed that he would remain at the club until the end of the season, where he is likely to move to a Serie A club, possibly Lazio or Roma.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Licences, cold money and Christmas

It's been an eventful December for a nation with a summer league system. The rarity of a Finnish team still in European competition, the sorting out of league licences for 2015 and some ups and downs for the Finns spread across Europe. In the absence of the usual weekly reviews, I've decided to do a recap of what has gone on recently.

Santa is an HJK fan?!

The 2015 season

Last week, Honka were denied a licence to play in Veikkausliiga in 2015. I've made several mentions over the last year or so relating to the money problems which have plagued the club. Despite new owners taking control of the club, they also assumed the debts, issues and promises. In a roundabout way to appease reformists, the eleventh-placed team was replaced by the club that came second in Ykkönen - FC KTP, who only formed a year ago in their current form due to a merger between KTP and FC KooTeePee.

In a less expected twist, MYPA have been given a deadline of January 8th to prove themselves worthy of a place in the top flight next season. They too have been cutting back on their finances, while they're looking to make up an estimated shortfall of 200k Euros, or else their place in the 2015 season will be taken by either TPS or Ilves, who have been asked to submit potential applications. MYPA are also in danger of potentially missing out on the Europa League - they were the highest eligible side in the Fair Play table, which could mean a spot for KuPS... Banzai!

Mixed fortunes

The most widely told story is that of Sami Hyypiä resigning as Brighton manager on Monday. It had been predicted for a number of weeks in lieu of their form over the season, but still a shame to see a young manager fail for a second time - his spell at Leverkusen was very much a case of Jekyll and Hyde.

In other news, Finland U21 midfielder Glen Kamara made the bench for Arsenal (but didn't come on) in the Champions League match against Galatasaray and spent a fair bit of time training with the first team ahead of the Liverpool league match. Lauri Dalla Valle returned to his former club Crewe Alexandra on a free transfer. Tim Väyrynen received an E grade in In Bed With Maradona's review of their 100 young players in 2014.

HJK finished third in their Europa League group, ending in a 2-1 defeat to Club Brugge. Niklas Moisander (Ajax), Markus Halsti (Malmö) and Roman Eremenko (CSKA Moscow) were eliminated from the Champions League.


As the song goes, it's the most wonderful time of the year... So FC Santa Claus come out to play, Saint Nick visits pretty much every club in the country, while things tend to shut down a little bit. I've been a little guilty of over-promoting FC Santa Claus, I'll certainly cut that down. To be honest, if they ever replied to their emails, I'd be feeling a bit more festive.

If I don't blog again, hyvää joulua!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

HIFK promoted in thrilling end to Ykkönen 2014

I've had a few people moaning in the life of ETS that I don't give enough time to the Ykkönen (officially division one, the second tier of Finnish football). Fair enough, I probably don't... But this weekend saw the final round of fixtures, and what a finish.

The HIFK fans celebrate (photo via Tomi Leivo-Jokimäki)

It all started with KTP and HIFK fighting out for the one promotion place. KTP have led the table for virtually the entire season, while HIFK had been promoted from Kakkonen and were usually floating around the top half. KTP had lost their previous three games, while HIFK had won the last three (and had a superior goal difference). KTP needed to win, HIFK needed to better their result.

So what happened?

4200 people squeezed into Kotka's Arto Tolsa Areena to see KTP surely clinch their promotion at home to already relegated JIPPO. But that game ended goalless! Meanwhile in Helsinki, HIFK hosted FC Jazz - and were losing 1-2 with twenty minutes to go... But they fought back to win 4-2 and clinch promotion to Veikkausliiga for the first time since 1972.

Finland's capital gets a genuine derby match in 2015 (three of them to be fair!), these will be well worth a visit. Hopefully my friends at the ivory towers will sort out the fixtures to coincide with my visit... But KTP were also superb for large parts of the season, although that was largely due to the scoring of Jussi Aalto - when he stopped scoring, so did KTP. He ended up missing out on the top scorer prize after being overtaken by Haka's Kalle Multanen.

This graph by Lari Vesander shows how HIFK caught KTP after their meeting in early August, when KTP led by twelve points.

The highlights of the superb final round are below, which also include Ilves hitting double figures again Viikingit and Haka scoring six against PK-35.


Ilves - FC Viikingit 10-0
JJK - AC Oulu 1-2
Haka - PK-35 6-0
HIFK - FC Jazz 4-2

Highlights of Saturday's Ykkönen games