Showing posts with label TPS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TPS. Show all posts

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.

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 20, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 32 - Au revoir TPS

They made it to the penultimate weekend, but ultimately drop. TPS had prepared for a season of struggle by cutting their financial cloth accordingly, releasing/selling several first team players while blooding youngsters and (cheaper) alternatives.


Their closest rivals Honka, who were in money problems of a different kind, managed to claim a point at home to KuPS which condemned the Turku club to relegation. They drop to the Ykkönen in 2015, where they will be joined by EIF and PS Kemi, who won their promotion play-offs from Kakkonen.

The weekend's top division games were spread over Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday:

RoPS - SJK 1-2
FF Jaro - IFK Mariehamn 1-0
FC Honka - KuPS 2-2
TPS - FC Lahti 0-1


Sunday:

MYPA - FC Inter 2-2
VPS - HJK 1-1

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 31 - Honka deliver fatal blow

After 31 rounds of football, it took one injury time goal from Honka to essentially condemn TPS to relegation. Honka were trailing 1-0 to champions HJK, while TPS were losing by the same score at KuPS. With two games left, it gave TPS at least some chance of salvation, but Antti Mäkijärvi's equaliser meant that they are six points ahead of TPS with two games to play, with a goal difference of eleven more.

Photo by Jussi Eskola

So Honka, despite a shambolic season led by Shefki Kuqi, will remain in the Veikkausliiga for another season, unless their awful financial state goes against them when applying for a 2015 licence. TPS spent the early part of 2014 preparing for a year of difficulty, and cut their cloth accordingly. Hopefully their foundations will give them plenty to build on, should they end up in next year's Ykkönen. I'm looking forward to visiting them next summer.

Below are the highlights of Sunday's matches, which also saw Lahti and SJK confirm their places in the early qualifying rounds of next year's Europa League. The remaining guaranteed place will be decided on November 1st, when HJK face Inter in the Suomen Cup final. An Inter win will give them the last berth, but UEFA's recent rule changes mean that an HJK win would ensure a place for the team finishing fourth, either IFK Mariehamn, VPS or KuPS.

SJK - VPS 0-3
FC Inter - RoPS 4-1
KuPS - TPS 1-0
FC Lahti - IFK Mariehamn 1-1
HJK - FC Honka 1-1
MYPA - FF Jaro 2-1


Highlights of Sunday's matches

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 28 - Inter leave TPS black and blue

Four fixtures this midweek, the Turku derby being the highlight, which had almost everything. A hat-trick, red card, Panenka penalty... I'm visiting Turku next Monday for the Inter v Honka game, hopefully there are some goals left in the tank.



TPS 1-6 Inter
Honka 2-0 MYPA
IFK Mariehamn 2-2 SJK
VPS 2-0 RoPS


Highlights of Wednesday's matches

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 26 - TPS bash RoPS

Not a high scoring day on Sunday. HJK returned to domestic action after their Europa League feats with a win, TPS are still gaining on Honka after beating RoPS, and I'll think of something else that happened as well...

We're walking in the air (via FF Jaro's Twitter account)

 Lahti 0-0 Inter
KuPS 0-0 SJK
TPS 4-2 RoPS
Honka 1-2 VPS
IFK Mariehamn 3-1 MYPA
Jaro 1-4 HJK


Highlights of Sunday's matches

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Veikkausliiga week 3 - TPS & KuPS lose again, MYPA top

KuPS 1-4 Jaro

On a day when Finnish football, and KuPS in particular, remembered the life of the late Aulis Rytkönen, the hosts were truly stunned by a fine display from Jaro. First half goals from Hendrik Helmke and Shahdon Winchester were followed by second half strikes from Aubrey David and David Carlsson. A consolation from Miikka Ilo was followed by a red card for Ilo on a poor day for the yellows, leaving them pointless at the foot of the table. This was Jaro's first win, with their first goals to boot.

KuPS look to the skies for inspiration

VPS 1-0 TPS

The bronze medallists of 2013 beat those of 2012 by a single goal, a 75th minute strike from substitute Lasse Linjala. A steady start to the season for VPS, but another poor result for TPS after their Suomen Cup defeat to JJK in the week.

Honka 1-2 MYPA

Ten man MYPA took their place at the top of the table with another win against Honka, who they had also beaten in week one (weird fixture scheduling). Denis Abdulahi gave MYPA the lead (28mins) before Honka's on-loan Fulham defender Alex Brister equalised on 43mins. Pekka Sihvola restored MYPA's lead on the hour, but was sent off shortly after as MYPA held on. How long before Honka coach Shefki Kuqi picks himself up front?

Lahti 3-1 HJK

A surprise defeat for the champions, who were outplayed by Lahti in front of a decent crowd of 4512. Drilon Shala's 7th minute goal gave Lahti a lead, but another goal from Ghanaian defender Gideon Baah made it 1-1 just before half-time. But Lahti somehow scored twice before the break, first through Mikko Hauhia and then a second for Shala. The game ended 3-1, despite Shala having a penalty saved at the end of the game.

Inter 2-1 SJK

(Bad Easter pun time) Inter's 2014 resurrection carries on, but it was SJK who had put all their eggs in the basket with Akseli Pelvas scoring after 22 minutes. But Irakli Sirbiladze scored nine minutes later, and Tamas Gruborovics converted a penalty (his third goal in three games) just after the break to seal three points. No mention of crosses.

IFK Mariehamn 2-0 RoPS

Mariehamn keep a clean sheet? Their promising forwards delivered, with early second half goals from Solignac (49mins) and Forsell (53mins). RoPS meanwhile struggle, and only have one goal from their opening three games.

All the goals from Saturday's games

Friday, March 28, 2014

Veikkausliiga 2014 season preview

It's been a long winter since the end of the last Finnish football season. Saturday 26th October saw the final round of fixtures, which had little bearing on the final outcome. HJK had sewn up the title, the silver and bronze medal positions were already decided, while JJK were long since relegated (they finished twelve points behind eleventh placed RoPS).

So this season starts on Sunday April 6th 2014, with a staggered schedule. Six teams get their seasons started, the three matches being played at grounds with artificial pitches. HJK host Jaro, RoPS play VPS and MYPA take on Honka. In fact HJK start with four home games in their first five... The rest of the sides join in a week later. The teams that finished in the top six last year will play seventeen home matches in 2014, while those in the bottom half will play sixteen.

The 2013 Veikkausliiga champions

The pre-season Liigacup (league cup) was won by newcomers SJK after a 1-0 win against VPS, who had been drawn together in group four, both matches ending in a 2-3 away win. HJK fielded a youth side in their semi-final against SJK and were beaten 1-0, while Inter Turku had the best group stage record with three wins out of four.

The European contenders this year will be HJK in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, while Honka, VPS and RoPS will enter the Europa League at qualifying round one. MYPA were elected as the Fair Play representative, and are also set to enter in round one, and will find out in May. Honka's entry isn't confirmed yet, as their ongoing financial problems have led to IFK Mariehamn being invited to apply to take their place. After last year's abysmal showing, where every participant was eliminated at the first stage, the Finnish clubs will need to pull their fingers out to improve the co-efficient.

For any UK-based Veikkausliiga fans, there was good news this week with the news that VeikkausTV, the Finnish betting site, will be showing fifty live matches this season, starting with the opening day match between HJK and Jaro. I'm not aware yet of pricing or whether the site is viewable in the UK. If not, I'll recommend some sites that allow your computer to think it's in Finland... Don't forget that ETS is the only English language site authorised to show match highlights!

New boys SJK celebrate their Liigacup victory

Last year, I did a page looking at all the new kits for the season. Unfortunately, some of the clubs are yet to release any decent photos of their wardrobes, while some appear to be using the same kits as last season. I'll try and put a page together at some point as plenty of clubs have moved onto new kit manufacturers.

So what can we expect this year? Some of the young talent has moved abroad, there have been plenty of managerial changes and new faces could make big names for themselves. Below we'll look at the twelve teams taking part, along with a brief update on the changes at each club. The teams are listed in order of their final position in 2013.



HJK

A fifth consecutive title came, but it was fairly underwhelming in the end. Rumours that manager Sixten Boström would be replaced subsided, but the question remains if whether HJK can push on in Europe after feebly falling to Estonians Nomme Kalju. Zeneli, Pohjanpalo and Sumusalo have gone, but Baah, Lampi and Heikkinen will shore up the rear. Mikael Forssell and Demba Savage are likely to remain the key threats up front, and they have signed Danish goalkeeper Michael Tørnes. Something has to go horribly wrong to prevent another championship.




 Honka

Another winter of financial troubles with talk of big debts, but this time they lost their manager too. Finland legend Shefki Kuqi has taken his first manager job, but will be taking over a much different side to the one that challenged for the title. Väyrynen,Yaghoubi, Palazuelos, Meite and Baah have left - it's hard to see any real challenge. They have some decent young players, and may survive by virtue of teams in bigger struggle... If they are granted a licence to compete in 2014.



VPS

A surprising (but well deserved) third place finish brings Europa League football, and perhaps an outside bet for a higher finish this season. They have retained key players Sillanpää, Strandvall and Morrissey, and signed Timi Lahti from HJK. They reached the Liigacup final, with captain Strandvall the key man, and if Morrissey can score like he did in 2012, they'll have a good league season.




IFK Mariehamn

Possibly the side with the most exciting attacking options, if they stay fit... Petteri Forsell is back, Luis Solignac and Josef Ibrahim ended 2013 scoring hatloads, and they were the second top scorers in the division (with the second worst defence). Red card magnet Darren Purse has left, Duarte Tammilehto has joined, and at the time of writing, they're second favourites for the title.




FC Lahti

After a poor start to 2013, Lahti recovered with a great run including seven wins in nine games under Juha Malinen. They're now under the guidance of former MYPA coach Toni Korkeakunnas, and with a mostly unchanged squad, they'll do fine. Elder statesman Rafael (35) scored sixteen goals last year, and could well carry the burden again.




MYPA

Sexy football is back! Former Finland manager Antti Muurinen has taken the reins, and will be trying to bring a Brazilian flavour to the league after signing a partnership deal with Fluminense (borrowing three young players). Several squad members have signed new deals, but Muurinen will need to work hard to inspire more than a top-six finish.





KuPS

Surprisingly ended 2013 in seventh after a mediocre season, with rare highlights including a win at HJK and reaching the Suomen Cup final. The retirement of top scorer Ilja Venäläinen will hit hard, while various attempts to recruit replacements have fallen through. There's a decent crop of youth players, but the club will be hoping not to have to rely on them too heavily. Also heavily in debt, but it's unlikely to affect league status.




TPS

A major budget shortfall after poor performance in Europe and over-extending the wage bill has led to mass player departures and uncertainty. Wayne Brown has remained, but several youngsters and untested imports will fill out the squad. A good win over AC Oulu in the Suomen Cup will need to be built on in order to avoid a year of struggle on the pitch as well as off it.




Inter Turku

Another turbulent year, with poor performances, a lack of goals and little creativity. But the return of Mika Ojala and Joni Aho will make Inter resemble their 2012 silver medallist position. Irakli Sirbiladze can be dangerous on his day, but last year seemed disinterested while the signing of Tamas Gruborovics didn't create as much as was expected. Unlikely to trouble either end of the table.




FF Jaro

2013 started well, with Hendrik Helmke on top form and Shahdon Winchester settling in well, but it tailed off dangerously in the autumn. Now Alexei Eremenko's side have those two players back, but they have lost others (Banner, Skrabb, Jonke). Goalkeeper Jesse Öst can be superb on the right day, but will be very busy. Will struggle.




RoPS

The Cup winners are now managed by the well-travelled (and well-respected) Juha Malinen and are looking to build on a solid defence. They will need to improve the forwards, after only scoring 25 goals in 33 games last year. Their home form was decent, but hopefully Europe won't prove too much of a distraction, where home games are likely to be played in Oulu.


SJK

Their first season in the top division in their current guise, SJK have recruited well ahead of the campaign, signing several experienced players with top flight experience. Winnig the Liigacup final is a grand start, but they'll face far greater challenges. They have a large British influence on the staff, and are coached by former Derby midfielder Simo Valakari.




So that's the line-up for 2014 - don't forget to check back every week for updates. Day job depending, I still plan to do weekly round-ups with highlights. Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates and scores as well. For those of you who like a bet, good luck!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 33 - over for another year

Six months on, everything is sorted. While last week confirmed the final major issue of who would get a medal, there were still farewells, trophies and places to deliver. Several managers move onto new clubs, HJK received the championship trophy, and several clubs still had places to play for.

Ahead of the loooooooooong winter break, there'll be posts looking at the best bits of 2013, statistical trends, and plenty of other things related to Finnish football - some will be appearing on other websites (follow Twitter/Facebook for more info). Meanwhile, here is the summary of the final round of fixtures.

HJK 4-2 KuPS

A fifth consecutive title had been confirmed a couple of weeks ago - but they finally got their hands on the trophy after a pretty open game against KuPS. The teams had previously faced each other in Helsinki in June, and KuPS came away with a 1-2 win. This time, Mikael Forssell's hat trick (6, 54, 89 mins) was decisive, although goals from Hakola and Paananen had given KuPS the lead. Mannström had scored the other (39').

Ville Wallen with the trophy - don't drop it!

HJK were unbeaten in their final twenty league matches after an indifferent start, including ten wins in the last eleven. It's lazy to assume the European exit was a kickstarter, as Honka were providing a solid challenge at the time. The key match was HJK's 4-2 win over Honka in August, from which Honka never recovered. KuPS meanwhile say goodbye to a mixed 2013 - inconsistent league form, a third cup final defeat in a row, and more financial loss. But with decent young players in the wings, some of the pieces are already there.

Highlights of HJK 4-2 KuPS

HJK finish the season top with 73 points (average 2.21 points per game). KuPS came seventh, with 41 points (1.24pts).

MYPA 3-0 JJK

JJK say farewell to the Veikkausliiga with a comprehensive defeat at MYPA - who ensured a top flight finish and an extra home game for 2014. Goals from Sihvola (62'), Sesay (66') and Anttilainen (76') sentenced JJK's young side to a fifteenth game without a win, and a fitting send-off into the second tier.

Highlights of MYPA 3-0 JJK

MYPA end in sixth place with 47 points (average 1.42pts). JJK were last with 22 points (0.67pts).

Inter 1-2 Honka

Tim Väyrynen's late winner ensured a winning finale to a good season for Honka, with a golden boot as the top scorer in the division. His seventeen goal of the season (86mins) delivered a thrilling comeback, after Guy Gnabouyou had given Inter the lead on 55mins, only to be equalised by Väisänen on 81mins. It was probably Tim's final game for Honka, whose silver medal was their highest finish since 2009.

Highlights of Inter 1-2 Honka

Inter end the season with 40 points (average 1.21 per game). Honka came second with 61 points (1.85pts).

IFK Mariehamn 4-1 VPS

VPS's bronze medal party was brought down to Earth, but they won't be too fussed in the grand scheme. Goals from Trafford, Wiklöf and Hradecký gave Mariehamn a 3-0 lead, before Tomi Ameobi's ninth of the season made it 3-1. Byskata's injury time penalty made it 4-1 - good for Åland, which sees a historic season for the club end on a high note. VPS head into Europe next summer, but will remember the day for the bronze, not the result.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 4-1 VPS

IFK Mariehamn end the season in fourth place with 49 points (1.48pts per game). VPS were third, with 51 points (1.55pts).

Lahti 3-2 TPS

A fantastic second half of the season for Lahti ended with a win over TPS, who will be glad the season is over... Lahti's goals were scored by Hertsi, Rafael and Nganbe Nganbe. The TPS goalscorers were Riski and Lehtonen. A tremendous push from Lahti under RoPS-bound Juha Malinen, who took over a team destined for a relegation struggle. TPS meanwhile failed to live up to pre-season medal hopes, although injuries did take their toll - and budget cuts mean that 2014 could be just as challenging.

Highlights of Lahti 3-2 TPS

Lahti end the season in fifth place with 48 points (average 1.45pts). TPS ended in eighth, with 41 points (1.24pts).

Jaro 2-0 RoPS

The meeting of the teams in 11th and 10th was resolved early in favour of Jaro - Banner (6') and an Emet penalty (19') provided their first win in 13 games, after eight straight defeats. If you'd offered RoPS 11th and the Suomen Cup in March, I guess that would have been a good result... They only won one of their final ten games, and rumours of several player changes for their new coach could make things interesting - although I'm a big fan of Malinen. Watch this space.

(pending)
Highlights of Jaro 2-0 RoPS

Jaro's win took them to tenth, ending with 37 points (1.12pt average). RoPS finish in eleventh place with 34 points (average 1.03pts).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Out of Europe - Who beat the Finns?

After all the build-up, the excitement, and the waiting from October until now... Each Finnish club who entered European competition for 2013/14 were eliminated after one tie. Some did ok, others just didn't turn up. Here's a quick summary of their (short) campaigns.

HJK - Champions League qualifying round two

New HJK coach Sixten Boström took over at the end of 2012, with the brief to reach the group stage of either UEFA competition. HJK drew Estonian champions Nõmme Kalju in the second qualifying round, and put in two pretty tepid performances, and were duly eliminated. The first leg, in Helsinki, ended 0-0, while Kalju won 2-1 in Tallinn, and go through to round three, where even elimination will be rewarded with a Europa League play-off.

Kalju's Ceesay celebrates his goal against HJK

There has been much speculation to what will happen to HJK - at the time of writing, they're second in the table but have rarely looked fluid, while the big name signings of Teemu Tainio and Mikael Forssell haven't really clicked. Boström will surely be given the rest of the year at least to ensure a fifth straight Veikkausliiga title... But the pressure he complained of will now be even greater. Meanwhile, Kalju will play Czech title-holders Plzeň.

Inter Turku - Europa League qualifying round one

Last year's runners-up had gone through a rotten period in the league, and continued it into Europe. A 1-1 draw in the Faroe Islands against Vikinur was followed by a 0-1 defeat in Turku. But there was plenty of controversy.

Bouwman had a chance to level from the spot

Before the second leg, huge sums were traded on Betfair that both teams would score, far more than for a normal game. Both teams were awarded penalties in the second half, for fairly innocuous incidents. But Vikingur scored theirs, while Inter's Pim Bouwman missed. Inter eliminated, and lodged a complaint with UEFA, but it won't make any difference. Vikingur lost 0-7 on aggregate to Romanian side Petrolul in the second round.

TPS - Europa League qualifying round one

Again suffering an inconsistent start, TPS had finished 2012 in third place, and with it a spot in Europe. They were drawn against Luxembourg's Jeunesse Esch, and on paper it seemed like a good draw. It was the away trip to the Grand Duchy where the foundations were laid.

Chinese midfielder Wang (green), who scored two goals against TPS

A 2-0 defeat, and a shoddy performance, set the tone. Even a 2-1 home win was rendered useless, where Wayne Brown also missed a penalty. TPS exited after a 2-3 aggregate defeat, and Jeunesse were knocked out in the next round by Latvian club Ventspils, 1-5 on aggregate.

IFK Mariehamn - entered Europa League at qualifying round one

Mariehamn won their place in Europe thanks to the Fair Play route, and certainly made a big deal of their first foray into continental football. They were drawn against Azerbaijan's Inter Baku, a huge journey. They made the trip, but it proved costly - in a 1-1 draw, they lost key players Diego Assis and Dever Orgill for the season, after fouls from Baku defender Bruce Abdoulaye (dubbed the Butcher of Baku).

From the first leg in Baku

With the away goal, they returned to Åland with hope of a famous victory - but a 0-2 home defeat meant they left after just one home game. Mariehamn played well in parts, and showed plenty of spirit. But shorn of their two key attacking threats (they were already without Petteri Forsell), the rest of 2013 will be a struggle. Inter Baku lost 1-2 on aggregate to Norwegians Tromsø in round two.

FC Honka - Europa League qualifying round two

The 2012 Suomen Cup winners entered at round two - and were given a difficult task against Poland's Lech Poznań. The first leg was played in Vantaa (due to UEFA's ground regulations), however that was overshadowed by some naughty behaviour from the Lech fans, while the Police were accused of being over-zealous, which has started a debate about the cost of policing football. Lech won the first leg 1-3.

Not pictured - the ball

The second leg in Poland started with a bang - Honka keeper Viitala was recklessly fouled in the box after four minutes, two yellow cards were dished out, Lech scored, and Honka equalised - all before the eighth minute. A second Lech goal before half-time was the final one, and it ended Lech 2-1 Honka (5-2 agg) in front of over 15000 people. Honka did well, some neat play and committed defending, but the gap in quality was apparent. Lech progress to a third round tie against Žalgiris of Lithuania.

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By exiting at the first time for each club, Finland's UEFA co-efficient has already taken a big hit. Bosnia-Herzegovina have overtaken the Finns, while Kazakhstan and Iceland's representatives have improved their rankings. If the 2014/15 competitions have the same number of entrants (accounting for competition winners), Finland will lose a second round place for the cup winners.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Finnish clubs in Europe - who can they play?

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

The hood from the Thunderbirds gets busy

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

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

Champions League

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

Last year's winners Bayern Munich

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

Second qualifying round

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

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

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

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

Europa League

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

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

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

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

First qualifying round

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

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

Second qualifying round 

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

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

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

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 7 - TPS triumph in the capital

Work is pretty busy at the mo, I haven't had much time to do a full blog. Here is a short, short version.

HJK 0-2 TPS

HJK lost their first home league match since August 2010. Two late goals from TPS (Ristola 83min, Riski 90min) ensured their first win at HJK since 1998. Teemu Tainio was sent off for HJK just before half time.  HJK still top, while TPS move up to third.

Tainio receives his marching orders

Highlights of HJK 0-2 TPS

KuPS 1-0 RoPS

A late penalty from Ilja Venäläinen (87mins) gave KuPS a third consecutive win, RoPS have lost all three away games.

Highlights of KuPS 1-0 RoPS

Honka 3-2 JJK

Honka continued their recent good form, now seven points from nine. They went two nil up through Porokara and Kastrati, before JJK pulled back to 2-2 with goals from van Gelderen and Innanen. Yaghoubi got the winner on 55mins for Honka. Honka are 8th, JJK remain bottom with two points from six matches.

Highlights of Honka 3-2 JJK

MYPA 2-0 Lahti

MYPA end the round in second place on thirteen points, after goals from Gela (19mins) and Pekka Sihvola (55mins). Lahti are 11th, with five points (prior to outcome of appeal re RoPS game).


Highlights of MYPA 2-0 Lahti

IFK Mariehamn 1-0 Jaro

Kris Bright's second league goal, bang on half-time, got Mariehamn back into the groove, they sit sixth with 11 points, but only three behind the leaders. Jaro are ninth, and their decent early form feels a long time ago.

Highlights of IFK Mariehamn 1-0 Jaro

Inter 0-0 VPS

The only thing of note was a red card for Inter defender Tuomo Turunen in the first half. Inter are fifth, VPS are fourth. If highlights ever emerge, I'll upload them. In the meantime, here are the teams coming out, with some cheerleaders.

The teams coming out

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Veikkausliiga week 6 (part II) - TPS win the derby, HJK leave it late

Part two of our week six round up focuses on Monday night's matches - the Turku derby between TPS and Inter, and Lahti hosting leaders HJK.

TPS 2-1 Inter

The second and third placed teams in 2012 (Inter second, TPS third) had both made indifferent starts to the season. They'd been drawn in the same group of the Liigacup, with a draw and a 5-1 TPS win the outcomes.

 Juho Lähde celebrating the second TPS goal (photo via Vesa-Matti Väärä)

So to the first league meeting of the season. TPS got off to the best possible start, an early goal from Roope Riski was quickly followed by Juho Lähde scoring at the second attempt. 2-0 up after 17 minutes. Inter keeper Bahne kept it at 2-0, before the 'visitors' reduced the deficit just before half-time, Sirbiladze heading in from a corner.

In the second half, Sami Rähmönen received a red card for kicking out at Severi Paajanen, and while both teams had chances to score again, TPS midfielder Wayne Brown saw a poor penalty saved by Bahne.


Sirbiladze has a go (photo via Timo Jerkku)

TPS now have nine points from six matches (three wins, three defeats). Inter have ten points from their six games. TPS travel to Helsinki on Friday, while Inter host VPS.

Highlights of TPS 2-1 Inter

Lahti 0-1 HJK

Despite having mixed expectations at the start of the season, these two sides had also suffered from mixed starts. Lahti's Liigacup win was followed by an administrative error at RoPS, and some dodgy results. HJK had 11 points from five games, but hadn't looked convincing in chucking away a 0-2 lead at Inter, and required poor finishing from Jaro to get a win there.

The visitors made the bold move of leaving Mikael Forssell on the bench, starting with Pohjanpalo, Savage and Zeneli as an attacking three. Lahti's defence looked shaky, the most clear-cut chance came in the first half with Fulham keeper Jesse Joronen (on loan at Lahti) giving a clearance straight to Zeneli, but he and Jolle conspired to mess it up.

Wallen keeps the ball out, with Kari looking

In the second half, Lahti came out with a lot more attacking intent, but wayward finishing and Ville Wallen stood in their way. It was Forssell, who came on for Pohjanpalo on 70mins, who provided the winner, heading in from a well placed corner with 13 minutes left. Fellow sub Nikolai Alho was brought down in the box shortly after, but Joronen saved Forssell's penalty.

 Super-sub Forssell

Lahti had hoped for an attendance of 9000, but the actual gate of just under 4000 was still fairly respectable. They also effectively sit in 11th place, accounting for the forfeit at RoPS, with four points from five matches. HJK are four points clear at the top of the table, with fourteen from six games.

Highlights of Lahti 0-1 HJK

Monday, April 15, 2013

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

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

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

Honka and TPS line up (photo Juho Tervala)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights of TPS 2-0 FC Honka

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

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

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

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

 

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

The MYPA fans go wild (photo Vartaloharhautus)

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

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

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

Highlights of KuPS 1-1 MYPA

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

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An introduction to Veikkausliiga 2013

With the 2013 Finnish Veikkausliiga (Premier League) season starting in April, it's a good chance to introduce the league, clubs and players to those with a passing interest, and to hopefully attract some new fans...

Respect is the theme of the 2013 season

The league was formed in 1990 as a professional league, replacing the Mestaruussarja, and is sponsored by the national betting organisation Veikkaus. It's a summer league, running from April to October, like most Northern European leagues, and continues to run throughout international tournaments. It's currently ranked 30th out of 53 in UEFA's national co-efficient (this is likely to drop further due to improved performance by teams from Slovenia and Azerbaijan).

The league winner enters the following year's Champions League in qualifying round two. 2012 champions HJK will play their first qualifier in July 2013. Europa League places also go to the teams finishing second and third (FC Inter Turku and TPS enter qualifying round one) and the winner of the Suomen Cup (Honka go to qualifying round two). As things currently stand, Finland are also due to receive an extra Europa League place through the UEFA Fair Play rankings, and if this is confirmed, the place will go to IFK Mariehamn who finished fourth in 2012.

The league itself is made up of twelve clubs, who play every other team three times. One match is at home, one away, the other randomly drawn. The teams who finished in the top six the previous year will play 17 home games, while the teams in the bottom half play 16 home matches. Until 2010, there were fourteen clubs in the division, playing each other team twice.



The Veikkausliiga trophy

At the end of the season, the club finishing bottom is relegated to the Ykkönen (division one), and is replaced by that division's winner. Haka were relegated in 2012, and replaced by RoPS.

In the UK, the only ways to watch the Veikkausliiga are through Bet365's in-play, or the occasional game shown on Kutonen (a Finnish channel with a streaming facility on their website). Pay-as-you-play website Urho also have rights to some Veikkausliiga games, charging around five Euros a match.

Since 1990, HJK (Helsinki Jalkopalloklubi) have been the most successful side, winning the Veikkausliiga nine times, including the last four championships. They're also the only Finnish side to have made it into the group stage of the Champions League, in 1998/99. FC Kuusysi made it into the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1985/86, losing to eventual winners Steaua Bucharest.

The Veikkausliiga is also in charge of the league cup (Liigacup), which in Finland is only open to top division teams. The cup is used mainly as pre-season exercise for the clubs against similar opposition. The twelve clubs are drawn into three groups of four, playing home and away. The top two in each group, plus the two best third-placed teams, go into straight knock-out quarter-finals. This year's final was played on Saturday 6th April between FC Lahti and JJK, Lahti winning 2-1 with an injury time winner. There is no European place for the winner.

The twelve clubs in the 2013 Veikkausliiga are:

HJK

Current champions, and under new management. Former player Sixten  Boström has taken the reins, with the main brief to improve the club's performance in Europe. New signings for 2013 include former English Premier League players Mikael Forssell and Teemu Tainio. Certainly favourites to retain the title, but last year only won by six points. They'll need their new old boys to slot straight in.





FC Inter Turku

Second placed in 2012, and champions in 2008. Formed in 1990 by a local businessman, and named after Internazionale (they also play in blue and black striped shirts). Last year's league top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze remains in the squad, but their pre-season form has been poor. They've lost Mika Ojala and Joni Kauko, but new signings include JJK's Tamas Gruborovics and former Honka defender Tuomo Turunen.


TPS

Turun Palloseura are also based in Turku, and finished third in 2012. They've signed midfielders Duarte Tammilehto (Honka) and Wayne Brown (Bristol Rovers) for this year, and have looked good in the Liigacup. A solid core of young Finnish players throughout the squad, and with a history of producing quality players (including Finland captain Niklas Moisander).



IFK Mariehamn

Based in the Åland Islands capital, the club have only been professional since 2009. Losing all six group matches in the Liigacup was a poor start, but they've brought back Petteri Forsell on loan, and have made several new signings. The new guys will need to bed in quickly to keep their top half position. Europa League football could prove a distraction.



FC Lahti

Liigacup winners were formed in the merger of Reipas and Kuusysi, Lahti returned to the Veikkausliiga in 2012 and ended in fine style. They've since added two solid defenders in Pyry Kärkkäinen and Markus Joenmäki, and the biggest coup of the winter by signing Inter's Joni Kauko. They also have a decent core of youngsters, and have added Brazilian forward Vini Dantas. My tip for top three this season.


 
MYPA

Sixth in 2012 - par form. Since winning the title in 2005, they've only come between 5th and 9th since. They've retained striker Pekka Sihvola (despite him having several trials all over Europe), and have signed HJK youngster Emerik Grönroos on loan for the season. They may not yet benefit from selling the naming rights to their stadium, but a solid mid-table side.




Honka

Winners of the Finnish Cup in 2012, Honka will be going into 2013 in a degree of turmoil. Losing their captain Tapio Heikkilä to HJK and Tammilehto due to contract disputes over unpaid wages, and they were in danger of losing their league place. They have signed former Marseille and Bolton defender Abdoulaye Méïté, and have retained promising young striker Tim Väyrynen - well worth following their exploits.



 
VPS

Vaasan Palloseura returned to the top flight in 2006, but haven't finished a season higher than 8th, and 2012 also saw them come 8th. Jamaican forward Steven Morrissey scored fifteen goals last season, but has moved to Denmark, and the club have struggled to find a replacement. Defender Jesper Engström is also suffering from serious illness, and the club will struggle in 2013.



JJK

JJK of Jyväskylä suffered a hangover in 2012, following their 2011 bronze medal with ninth place and the worst defence in the league. A maiden European campaign ended with defeat to Montenegro side Zeta, and they sorely missed forward Babatunde Wusu. Tunde has returned, and young Eero Markkanen looks a good prospect. Should do better, but the top half may be beyond their reach. Liigacup runners-up.

KuPS

Kuopio's finest celebrated their 90th birthday recently, but will need clear heads. The 2010 runners-up seemed a long way off their best last season, where progress to the third qualifying round in the Europa League seemed to take over (before losing to Bursaspor). This year they have no such diversion, and have brought in HJK's former goal king Dawda Bah. Scored plenty of goals in pre-season.


FF Jaro

Escaping relegation on the final day with a surprise victory at TPS, Jaro again look like they will struggle to keep afloat in 2013. On-loan forward Sherif Ashraf has left, while Trinidadian Shahdon Winchester has come in and already looked dangerous. Young midfielder Simon Skrabb is also a potential match-winner, but is still only 18.


RoPS

The 2012 Ykkönen champions, and won at a canter. Better known for match-fixing allegations and YouTube clips about cold weather, they're very much a yo-yo club, but they've invested well. Saxman, Otaru and Okkonen have come in, and prolific Boris Kokko remains, despite interest in Poland. May find adjustment hard, but they won their Liigacup group.



So those are the runners and riders. We'll be running reviews of every round of fixtures, with highlights and photos. The latest news will be published on Twitter, while we're also on Facebook. I'll be visiting Finland in June, hopefully returning with some good tales and new friends.