Showing posts with label european cup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label european cup. Show all posts

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.


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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Introducing Nõmme Kalju - HJK's European opponents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skipper Alo Barengrüb

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Free digital magazine subscription! (In association with Zinio)

Our friends at Zinio are offering some of Escape To Suomi's readers the chance to win a year's digital subscription  to one of their fine titles.

The football fans amongst you will be interested in FourFourTwo, World Soccer or Champions Matchday, while also available are titles such as GQ, Viz, Glamour or Vogue.

There are nine subscriptions to win (I'm having one, need to keep up with the Finnish football), so here is how to win:

All you need to do is email me here with the answer to the following question:

Which German football club does former Finland international Sami Hyypiä manage?

Answers must be submitted by 23:59 on Sunday 26th May 2013. Entries must include a full name, email address, and the magazine you'd like a subscription to. One entry per person, winners will be chosen at random and notified via email. Zinio is available on a range of devices, including iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire HD, Android and desktop.

If you're not lucky enough to win, Zinio are also offering a two-year subscription for the price of one on any of their titles (offer ends May 29th), while you can also get 40% off a subscription to a football magazine.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Liverpool v OPS (October 1980) - the programme

We continue the vintage programme reviews with our first club match, and it's a big one from 1980. Finnish champions Oulun Palloseura (OPS) visited European giants Liverpool at Anfield in the second leg of their first round tie. The first match in Finland ended 1-1, a late equaliser from Seppo Puotiniemi earning OPS a draw. We'll tell you how the second leg ended later on.

As programmes go, this is a world away from the internationals with England and Scotland in the mid-70s. The 'Anfield Review' sold for 30p, but is much nearer to the matchday magazines of today. There are 28 pages, but no colour other than the excessive pink and red throughout. The second leg took place two weeks after the first, so there are plenty of features and photographs.

The inside cover immediately throws at you Liverpool's array of trophies, at the time they had 12 league titles, 2 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and 2 FA Cups (they won their first of eight league cups that season). There are also small pieces by Chairman John W. Smith and manager Bob Paisley. The coach mentions the difficulty in playing 'supposedly weak opposition', but gave OPS a back-handed compliment in how they battled on a small and rutted pitch.

There is a feature about the Liverpool fans who travelled to Finland - all six of them (three from Birkenhead, one each from Netherton, Bootle and Ashton). By all accounts, it was quite the voyage in the days before low cost airlines. The 132 hour round trip started after Liverpool's previous home game with West Brom, ended in Oulu, and went directly to Southampton for Liverpool's next game at the Dell. The cost? £114 each.

It's on the page 6-7 spread that we meet OPS - an informal squad photo. Retro kit afficionados will appreciate the Hummel kits and Adidas football boots.

The writer of the section below reminds us of how OPS won their previous league title, narrowly edging out KuPS, and there is a laugh at how a 'mere 800' people turned up for a match between the league and cup winners, yet 14,000 attended the first leg against Liverpool.

After a reminder of Liverpool's record in European fixtures, pages 10-11 bombard us. Features on the two British players based in Oulu (Scotsman Hugh Smith and Englishman Keith Armstrong - who went on to be a key figure in Finnish football), young marker Leo Houtsonen and a strong defence compete for attention.

The Brits had previously played together in Hong Kong, and the piece is quite sure they were more likely to return to the Far East than play in England... Not a lot of information is known about Smith (feel free to let me know if you can help!), but Armstrong continues to be involved in Finland. While he never did return to England, he played for a variety of Finnish clubs until 1992, while he has won the Veikkausliiga as a coach with Haka and HJK. He is currently sporting director at Ykkönen club SJK.

OPS's banking on their strong defence refers to their strong defensive record, conceding 25 goals in 29 matches in the previous season. A quick profile of their players follows, and refers to Olympic team striker Juhani Himanka. Leo Houtsonen had apparently spent a week trialing with Norwich City. We're also reminded that "All the OPS players, of course, are part-timers".

The next pages are a 'player parade', with pen pics of each squad memeber. A fine collection of traditional looking Finns, but unlike a number of 1980 photos, there were no outrageous haircuts of facial hair.

A photo gallery of the first leg takes four pages, and we see a photo of future manager Kenny Dalglish in the cockpit, along with the pre-match band.

Pages 16-17 have two photos of the Liverpool goal, scored by Terry McDermott, hidden away in the masses.

There's a European quiz on pages 20-21, sample questions include 'how many British clubs have been in the final of the European Cup, and can you name them?', and 'where is this season's European Cup final to be staged?'. The answers were: Five (Celtic, Manchester United, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest), and Paris.

Liverpool man Jim Kennefick, whose general brief according to Alan Hansen was 'handled the club's travel plans', has a page to himself and his viewpoint. Luckily it's not too controversial, he is grateful to OPS chairman Matti Heikkinen for their city tour, and such sights as 'a large power station'.

Jim also talks about how Liverpool took a large selection of LFC merchandise with them to Oulu, and sold all of it. The column gives a patronising pat on the head to the Oulu players, "what a great bonus it must be for their team to visit Anfield". Hmm.

The final page has the teams for the match, with a selection of household names for the home side, along with the details of the Icelandic officials. The scoreboard has the other fixtures around Europe that evening, with some big clubs involved - Real Madrid v Limerick, Ajax v Dinamo Tirana and Bayern Munich v Olympiakos.

And so to the match itself - and a landslide it was. Liverpool won 10-1 (11-2 on aggregate), and there were hat-tricks for Graeme Souness and McDermott, a brace for David Fairclough, and goals for Ray Kennedy and Sammy Lee. OPS did pull it back to 4-1 with a goal from Armstrong, but it was all in vain.

Liverpool went on to win their third European Cup that season, defeating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Paris final through a goal from Alan Kennedy.

The highlights of Liverpool 10-1 OPS are as below.

We hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, the next in the series will be the international between Wales and Finland from 2003.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Kuningas Litmanen Part II - Ajax

So the Litmanen story moves onto Amsterdam, and Ajax. Most of the interviews in this section, apart from those with Jari himself, are in English.

Ajax scout Ton Pronk was at the Suomen Cup final in 1992, and saw Jari. He describes the final as a "bad, bad, bad game" but he felt in his heart that Litmanen had the qualities that Ajax looks for, that he was the man. It was his preparations for the game that made him stand out initially, and he went off to Amsterdam... Where he was met by Ton, who took him straight to pre-season training, and this is where Louis van Gaal takes over.

Jari's first Ajax coach Louis van Gaal

Initially van Gaal wasn't impressed - Pronk had said he was at the right level, and had to convince van Gaal that Jari deserved to stay for the rest of the week, and Danny Blind describes how it was only a spate of injuries that meant Litmanen would get a fair go. It was only in small exercises that Jari first shone, the coach spoke glowingly about Litmanen's first touch, his ability to find space. He knew he'd make a perfect number 10, and fielded him in that position against an amateur side. Jari scored four goals.

Pronk smiles when van Gaal told him he was right after all...

Jari vs Portsmouth, Lahti 1993

Jari was happy to play as a number 10, but his expectations were managed, he was told he wouldn't play much because of Dennis Bergkamp. In a Finnish news clip, he was asked why he left MYPA, where he said it was for footballing reasons.

Litmanen arrives at Ajax's very modern looking training ground in February 2012, and meets some old friends. Coach Frank de Boer and director of football Marc Overmars both receive warm embraces, before journalist David Endt talks about Jari being seen as a rather unspectacular signing.

Captain Danny Blind remembers a young Jari

Danny Blind joins us, reminding that he and Frank Rijkaard were the elder statesmen of the team being in their early 30s, while the rest of the squad were in their late teens and early 20s. But he saw it their responsibility to help the younger foreign players settle in. Jari agrees, saying that he didn't feel like an outsider, and that as they all had one goal, it made life a lot easier.

Van Gaal eulogised that Litmanen's skill helped him settle, and that he was so open to learn from the coaches and players that it was only a matter of time. He had already started learning from Dennis Bergkamp, who was due to move to Spain in 1993.

Dennis himself speaks about the special position of 'shadow striker' that he had made his own. He knew Ajax were looking for other players to replace him, and initially Dan Petersen was the more likely candidate.

Jari's predecessor Dennis Bergkamp

Blind talks of van Gaal's early preference for Petersen, until the moment Jari got a run in the team. The coach himself had assumed that Litmanen was more of an attacking midfielder than a second forward, but his vision and awareness of space set him apart, plus he would defend more than Bergkamp...

Dennis left for Inter Milan in 1993, not Spain, and the captain described it as the beginning of a fantastic period for the club and for Jari. We see some clips of Jari lifting some trophies in his early days, the Dutch Super Cup in 1993 and 94, and the Eredivisie in 1994 as well.

 At the old Ajax stadium

We return to Jari walking around Ajax's then home, the Olympisch Stadion. He talks of his finest games being played in this ground, and his first great goal, a solo effort against PSV Eindhoven (below). Jari ended that season as top scorer with 26 goals, and was voted Footballer of the Year, an honour he prized.

Jari's first great goal for Ajax

He was happy with the style of football that Ajax played, just like Barcelona but not quite at the same level. It was a team of individuals, which emphasised his own skills of moving between the lines. Van Gaal was pleased that he had developed Jari more, that he was always open for the next pass. Litmanen reckons that Ajax (and the coach) improved him by 10-15%, as he feels like Finland had taught him the basics.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar remembered how keen Litmanen was to stay behind after training, with Marc Overmars and Edgar Davids, crossing and shooting at the keeper. His other former team-mates join in, Ronald de Boer was surprised by his determination, and Blind impressed with his focus and shooting techniques.

Not a bad couple of players

Overmars however gently mocked Litmanen's stretching techniques, using tubes to stretch with. Frank de Boer joins in, laughing at how Jari would even stretch in the bathroom for ages, but how he learnt the Dutch sense of humour. Van der Sar smiled when thinking of how he took it to the extreme.

An old interview with Rijkaard is shown from 1994, where he talks of Jari being their strongest player, and the main attraction. Van Gaal talks of the marvellous season, all the goals. Sami Hyypiä returns, and remembers when he played for Willem II, and how Litmanen destroyed them on the day they clinched the title - go too near him and he drops further back, or give him space and he'll play the killer pass.

Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari and Jari...

A chat with a rather eccentric Dutch man reveals how his pregnant girlfriend may call their child Jari, and then we find an interesting fact - since the mid-1990s, there had been 1587 boys born in Holland called Jari... The photo above shows the original with some of his namesakes. Even van der Sar's sister had a cat called Jari.

So to his greatest triumph, the 1994-95 European Cup. The first footage we see is from the group stage clash against the holders AC Milan. Jari and Rijkaard dominated, and we see Jari score from an Overmars cross, while van der Sar talked happily about wanting to swap shirts with their opponents.

Highlights of Ajax 2-0 Milan

Jari remembers winning both group games against Milan, both 2-0, and that he scored in both games. He scored a goal which was deemed strange by David Endt, by the way he narrowed the angle... But Jari used his early days as an ice hockey player, by committing the goalkeeper and putting it into the opposite corner.

The next real footage concentrates on Ajax's semi-final victory over Bayern Munich. The first leg in Bavaria finished 0-0, but the second leg was what Endt describes as one of Litmanen's finest. Ronald de Boer reckons that this Ajax team were the best in the world of that period, and this game would help that claim. After scoring the first goal, Jari was under a huge pile of players, and could only recognise himself from the boots.

But the real classy goal was to come, and it wasn't even scored by Jari (although he was involved). Overmars cut in from the right, rolled the ball along the edge of the box towards Litmanen. But he stepped over the ball, fooling the defender, while Finidi George strode forward and struck a beauty into the top right corner. Ajax went onto win the match, and the tie, 5-2, and reach the final where they'd face Milan again, in Vienna.

Highlights of Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich

David Endt tells us that while Jari was ultimately happy to win the cup (come on, you all know how it ends), his biggest regret was that he couldn't put his stamp on the final. A temperature and some allergy problems meant he played below his usual standards, and was replaced by the match-winner Patrick Kluivert after seventy minutes, while Van Gaal said he knew it was a close game.

Highlights of the 1995 European Cup final

After the match, Jari sat proudly with the trophy while he was interviewed, and said it was the highlight of his football career. The three years had been a fantastic time, but that he believed that it wasn't the end.

With the Big Cup

We re-join Jari in 2012 as he looks at the jersey he wore in the final, along with the associated trinkets. It felt wonderful then, and looking back it was a highlight. If he had to choose one moment from his career, that would be it.

Jari's shirt from the 1995 final

The next scene is on the canals of Amsterdam, with seemingly the entire city celebrating the triumph. He admits it's nothing like anything in Finland, and the triumph crowned an unbelievable year. We see Jari presented with that year's Intercontinental Cup, won against Gremio in Japan in front of 47,000.

We see a clip of Litmanen receiving his silver medal in 1996. Despite scoring in the final, and in the penalty shootout, Juventus won the cup with big ears. Not a lot was said about this game... Although the general vibe was that it was a huge disappointment.

Runner-up in 1996

We meet some die-hard Ajax fans, with huge Litmanen jersey collections, including their efforts to get to Lahti in 2010 to get his latest Jersey. Even more people show off some tattoos of their hero... A Finn living in Amsterdam used him as her inspiration to recover from a serious illness, and she lived to tell the tale.

So the Ajax spell ends, and fast-forwards to 2011 and his return to Helsinki. The strange time line of the DVD means that I'll probably look to cover his time at Barcelona and Liverpool next. See you soon, in the meantime here is a clip of Jari Litmanen's top 10 Ajax goals.

Jari's top 10 Ajax goals

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

HJK's gamble on experience

For a team that has been champions of Finland for four years in a row, HJK have decided to take drastic steps in order to progress, and Wednesday saw the latest development in their new direction. Continually frustrated at failing to reach the group stage of the Champions League (they haven't since 1998), they've gone for experience over potential.

HJK announced the signing of midfielder Teemu Tainio (33 years old) after his release from the New York Red Bulls. Tainio hasn't played in Finland since leaving Haka in 1997, and has since gained experience at Auxerre, Tottenham and a short spell at Ajax. The move had been rumoured for weeks, and Tainio finally signed a two-year-contract to line up in midfield with the younger Mika Väyrynen (just 31).

Gives you wings

Back in October, just days after winning the title, HJK also unveiled Mikael Forssell (31 years old) for the 2013 season. Forssell was close to signing for English League One side Notts County, but was tempted back to his first club. There are concerns over his knee injury, and the fact that he has a large salary will bring increased pressure. While we're still in the January transfer window, it's difficult to speculate on whether Mikael could start the season up front with Joel Pohjanpalo... But a fully fit Forssell and a shop window Jolle would be some partnership.

Thank you, come again

Leading the good ship HJK is new coach Sixten Boström, having arrived from Örebro (relegated from the Swedish Allsvenskan). His brief is simple - win the title, get to the group stage. He's no stranger to the club having been a player and a youth coach, but has a big challenge ahead. Prominent blogger Juha Reini predicts a 15 point winning margin in the league. Can HJK make it past the Euro qualifiers? Some of the other early qualifiers are BATE, Elfsborg and Molde, and that's before the rest of Europe joins in.

The new Next model was perfecting the dugout look

There's still nearly four months until the league season starts, and a lot of potential movement to come - most notably Pohjanpalo's future. Come August, we'll have a good idea how much has changed.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Escape To Suomi - A Year In Review

This site was born in June 2012, not long after the start of the Finnish league season and something to do while watching the European Championships. As the year has gone on, we've provided summaries of matches, the hot topics of the moment, and some other pieces which have required a lot of work.

As is tradition, it's time to look at the five most read articles on the site since it's inception, and hopefully gather some feedback.

Number 5 - Suomen Cup final preview

Written the night before the final, the blog previewed Honka v KuPS. Both sides were unlikely to qualify for the Europa League through league placing, and Honka were looking for a first cup win, with KuPS not having won it since 1989. In the end, Honka won the final 1-0, however the aftermath was dominated by controversy after both clubs were fined due to over-zealous support from the travelling fans.

Photo courtesy of Vartaloharhautus

Number 4 - The 1912 Finnish Olympic football team

Conceived during the London Olympics, and some cursory glances through the record books showed the Finland came fourth in the men's football event. Not bad given that they've never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship. More interestingly, it brought the tales of smuggler Algoth Niska and journalist Eino Soinio to a wider audience after the article was picked up and adjusted for esteemed football site In Bed With Maradona.

Eino Soinio

Number 3 - King Litmanen - The Movie

Kuningas Litmanen was the documentary released this autumn about Jari Litmanen. The movie was a big success, reporting big takings for a documentary and also getting an airing at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film is out now on DVD, and features talking heads from such luminaries as Louis van Gaal, Steven Gerrard and Dennis Bergkamp. A full review of the DVD will appear on this site in the new year.

No mention of what the deleted scenes are

Number 2 - Carl Jenkinson

One of the big talking points amongst Finnish football fans and writers was about Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson, who had represented the Finnish U21 team, via his Finnish mother. After a fantastic start to the English season (standing in for the injured Bacary Sagna), the debate soon hit English shores. Under FIFA rules he was allowed to change allegiance once, and after being invited to train with England, he then made his full debut as a substitute in a friendly against Sweden.

 England's Carl Jenkinson

Number 1 - European prize money

As Finnish clubs progressed in European qualifiers (well, HJK and KuPS at least), the financiers were rubbing their hands at the prospect of the money on offer, as well as the potential for the lucrative group stages. KuPS made it as far as the third qualifying round (losing to Bursaspor), while HJK lost to Celtic in the Champions League qualifier and then Bilbao in the Europa League play-offs. Both will have done reasonably well, KuPS in particular grateful for the money as they posted 2012 losses of 200000. Financially challenged Honka could benefit from a decent run in 2013/14, it was only confirmed last week that they have met the UEFA licensing conditions.


For 2013, I'll be continuing the weekly Veikkausliiga reviews, and inviting submissions for articles about Finnish football or Finns abroad. I'll be attending the World Cup qualifier against Belarus in Helsinki in June, and against France in Paris in October, so hopefully more about the international team as well.

Friday, December 07, 2012

What happened to the teams that ended Finnish European chances?

With UEFA's showpiece club tournaments reaching their winter break, it's time to review how far the clubs went who put an end to Finnish hopes in the late summer. It's been 14 years since a Finnish club was still playing continental football in December (HJK were in the Champions League group stage in 1998 - link to the blog), and it didn't really get close this year either.

HJK - Lost to Celtic, then Athletic Bilbao

2011 Veikkausliiga champions HJK had another crack at the European Cup, entering the second qualifying round and a tie versus Icelandic champions KR Reykjavik. A 7-0 home victory, including a hat-trick by Juho Mäkelä, was followed by a 2-1 win in Iceland, and through to the third qualifying round. There they faced Scottish champions Celtic, and lost 2-1 in Glasgow. Despite Neil Lennon's moaning about HJK's artificial turf, Celtic won the second leg 2-0 and sent HJK into the Europa League. Celtic then defeated Helsingborg 4-0 on aggregate in the play-off round to make it to the group stages. They were drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, and managed to finish second in the group, including two wins over Spartak and a home win against Barcelona. Celtic go into the draw for the round of 16 draw on December 20th. 

HJK's consolation was a Europa League play-off tie against the 2011/12 runners-up Athletic Bilbao. But a 6-0 defeat at San Mames extinguished any ideas, and a slightly crazy 3-3 draw in Helsinki meant another premature departure for HJK. Bilbao struggled to reach the heights of the previous season though, having lost Javi Martinez and sidelining Fernando Llorente, and finished third in Group I, behind Lyon and Sparta Prague, winning only one game - at Kiryat Shmona (who fielded Finnish international Roni Porokara).

KuPS - Lost to Bursaspor

KuPS reached the furthest level of the direct Europa League entrants, making it to the third qualifying round after defeating Llanelli (Wales) and Maccabi Netanya (Israel) before losing 1-6 to Turkish side Bursaspor, despite winning the first leg 1-0. The Turks went through to the play-off round, where they faced FC Twente of Holland. They won the first leg 3-1, and after losing 1-3 in Holland after 90 mins, the tie was heading for penalties before Leroy Fer scored a late goal to seal the tie 5-4 on aggregate and send Bursaspor out.

Inter - Lost to Twente

Inter entered the Europa League at the second qualifying round, where they drew Steve McClaren's FC Twente. The first leg in Holland surprisingly finished 1-1, but the second leg saw Twente visit Turku and win 5-0. Twente then played Czech team Mladá Boleslav, winning both legs 2-0 for a 4-0 aggregate. The play-off round saw them face Bursaspor, and won 5-4 (see above under KuPS). They reached the group stage, and were drawn in Group L with Hannover, Levante and Helsingborg, but failed to win a match and exited the group with four points.

MYPA - Lost to Rapid Bucharest 

MYPA qualified for the Europa League via the Fair Play route, and were drawn in the first qualifying round against Welsh second tier Cefn Druids, who were runners up in the Welsh Cup. A 0-0 draw in the first leg was followed by a routine 5-0 win back in Finland, which saw them through to the second qualifying round against Romanian cup runners-up Rapid Bucharest. A 1-3 defeat in Romania was followed by a 0-2 home defeat, a 1-5 aggregate defeat. Rapid went through to play Dutch club Heerenveen in the third qualifying round, but lost the first leg in Holland 4-0, and a 1-0 win in the second leg was academic.

JJK - Lost to Zeta 

JJK's first ever European campaign began with a first qualifying round tie against Norwegians Stabæk, and they won the first leg at home 2-0. But a nervy second leg saw them lose 2-3, and made it through 4-3 on aggregate. Their reward was a tie against Montenegro side Zeta, and won the first leg at home 3-2, but lost 1-0 in Montenegro and exited on the away goals rule. Zeta progressed to a tie against FK Sarajevo, and again progressed on away goals after losing the first leg 2-1, but winning 1-0 at home. Through to the play-off round, they drew PSV Eindhoven and were well and truly stuffed, losing 0-5 and 0-9 for a 0-14 aggregate defeat. PSV were knocked out of the group stage behind Dnipro and Napoli.