FC Haka v Cork City preview

This should be in today’s Irish Daily Mail:

Cork City manager Alan Mathews is expected to name an unchanged team for his side’s UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round clash with Finnish club FC Haka tonight. Cork need at least a high scoring draw after the first leg at Turner’s Cross finished 2-2, but there was an upbeat mood among the Cork squad as they trained in hot sunny weather at Haka’s Tehtaan Kenttä ground yesterday afternoon.

Cork are aiming to emulate the aggressive, up-tempo game that saw City claw back a two goal deficit in the first leg. Haka will welcome back the calming influence of 38 year-old Russian playmaker Valeri Popovitch, who did not travel to Ireland because he is afraid of flying.

The Finnish club have won nine Finnish Championships, more than any other club except HJK Helsinki, but off-field issues have dominated their start to the 2008 season.

The Valkeakoski side were initially refused a licence to play in this season’s UEFA Cup because their finances were not in order. Part of the solution came when the local council bought all the tickets for the home leg of the First Round tie, and then distributed them free of charge.

A capacity crowd of 3,500 is expected at the stadium, which has a pleasantly wooded setting on three sides, and a foul-smelling wood pulp factory on the other.

The pulp factory is a symbol of the previous backers of the club, United Paper Mills. After they pulled the plug on Haka, local nightclub owner Seppo ‘Sedu’ Koskinen stepped in and bought the club, promising to glamorise football in the small industrial town of Valkeakoski.

The 51 year old owner has promised to increase the ‘buzz’ around Haka games by inviting Finnish celebrities to Haka games, and has suggested that Haka players will need to be good-looking in future so as to ensure plenty of women turn up.

Cork will be without striker John O’Flynn, who has not yet recovered from his ligament injury. Haka’s Mikko Innanen and Pieteri Holopainen were injured in Sunday’s 1-0 win over VPS Vaasa and will be replaced by first leg goalscorer Janne Mahlakaarto and Jarno Mattila.

Probable line-ups

Haka: Dovbnya, Mattila, Kangaskorpi, Viljanen, Okkonen, Mattila, Kauppila, Manninen, Popovitch, Lehtinen, Mahlakaarto

Cork: Devine, Horgan, Murray, Sullivan, Danny Murphy, Healy, Gamble, Darren Murphy, Kearney, Behan, Mooney.

Veikkausliiga Round 14 round-up

FF Jaro – Tampere United 1-4
RoPS – FC Inter 0-0

HJK – IFK Mariehamn 4-0

MyPa – FC Honka 0-2

FC Haka – VPS 1-0
FC Lahti – FC KooTeePee 1-0
TPS – KuPS 3-3

Click on the game for highlights. TPS-KuPS should appear later.

Inter still did not lose, but their form is not so amazing anymore. They have drawn six times in their last seven games. Remarkably, except for Sunday’s goalless draw, Inter have scored the first goal in all those seven games. Maybe they get a bit too complacent after scoring?

The coaches in Veikkausliiga are usually quite professional (well, despite the fact that very few of them wear suits and even fewer really care what they wear for games), but sometimes they go a bit too far. Following MyPa’s defeat against Honka on Sunday, MyPa coach Janne Hyppönen was not very happy with Heikki Pulkkinen’s missed penalty.

We have two rules in the team as far as penalties are concerned. Number one, Tuomas Kuparinen will take the penalty if he is on the pitch. Number two, Heikki Pulkkinen will not take the penalty.

What a confidence boost for Pulkkinen. Anyway, MyPa would have preferred someone other than Honka to break their unbeaten run. They are firmly rooted in the race for the title, however, and should not feel too down-hearted.

IFK Mariehamn succumbed to a four-goal trashing against HJK, who are in great form. FC Lahti, unsurprisingly, got three points and the game was awful. TPS compensated their good recent form by producing a horrible performance against KuPS. Two late goals saved them, but they need to solve a few things out before Inter host them in the second Turku derby of the season on Monday.

In the Champions League, Tampere United are half buried after they went down 3-1 in their home game against Artmedia. Egan will probably post more about that, having been there himself. What I heard was that TamU faced the same problems they have encountered in Veikkausliiga this season.

Tampere United v Artmedia Petrzalka preview

It’s unclear whether or not Mathias Lindström will play for TamU tonight. He has a calf injury, and Hjelm told the media that he might well miss out. That would put Kuoppala in the team, who is solid enough but not as mobile as Lindström.

That aside, it should be a good game. Artmedia have their own injury worries, as they will start without Karim Guede, Radek Dasoudil and Martin Mikulic. Also doubtful are Pospech and Durida. There are still tickets available, and the weather is hot but breezy, so with a bit of luck the crowd will be decent too.

If you are unable to get to Tampere today, Slovakian TV will be showing the game and thankfully a stream is available for the Finnish football community.

In other news, VPS left back Ansi Agolli has returned to FK Tirana on loan because his father is sick. His excellent form has been one of the bright spots for Vepsu this year, but he will be replaced by Polish full back Maciej Truszczynski.

There is an excellent piece on the Zambians at RoPS over at Zambian Football. I recommend it.

Honka sell Maanoja

Gone is their best defender/defensive midfielder, and their goalkeeper will follow. Honka have announced that Tomi Maanoja will hop on the ferry and move to Stockholm’s AIK. Thursday’s UEFA Cup game against IA Akranes in Iceland will be “Psyko’s” farewell. The transfer fee has not been made public, but rumours are circulating that Honka will get about 300 000 € – roughly the same amount of money they got for Hannu Patronen.

Honka fans are not exactly praising their club for selling their important goalkeeper while their team is trying hard to make it to Europe next year – possibly through winning the title. Moreover, selling two important players is an interesting move from a club which in 2006 made no secret of their dreams of playing in the Champions League group stage in 2012, or attracting over 10 000 people on average to their home fixtures in 2010.

I don’t think Maanoja’s arrival at Gnaget is going to make Honka supporters much happier. Most likely he will not make his debut for the first team in a while, with Daniel Örlund being the man he has to compete with. I do not see people on the streets of Espoo dancing when they realize they sold an essential part

Veikkausliiga Round 14 Preview

Once again, the games start on Saturday and the last one will be played on Wednesday – so if my predictions go wrong as far as Wednesday’s TPS-KuPS is concerned, I’ll blame it on having to write the preview so early.

FF Jaro – Tampere United

This is Saturday’s only game. TamU are probably tired following their trip to Montenegro. Most likely they came back on Thursday, then spent Friday trying to recover and hopped on the bus once again on Saturday morning to make the 300 km trip to Pietarsaari. In addition, Jari Niemi, Mathias Lindström, Tomi Petrescu are missing due to minor injuries, Iiro Aalto and Henri Scheweleff have been out for a while and Henri Myntti is doubtful. Coach Ari Hjelm may also rest some players who have played in the European fixtures. All this will put TamU in a difficult position, but this is professional football and there is no room for complaints.
Jaro are missing Jonas Emet, Vesa Heikinheimo, Toni Junnila and possibly Jimmy Wargh. However, they certainly stand a chance of winning against a TamU squad struggling with injuries.

MyPa – FC Honka

One of the most interesting games of the round. The hosts are second in the league with 25 points while the visitors are occupying the fifth position with 21 points.
MyPa are unbeaten in 11 games and are only missing Aleksei Kangaskolkka and Kuami Agboh. Honka have only one absentee in Nicholas Otaru, so it will be a good game if the injury list is anything to go by.
The game is very difficult to call and a win for either side would not be a surprise. Maybe one should count on MyPa’s great form and home advantage?

HJK – IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamn have not won in nine games and are low on confidence. Their score of five goals in their last ten games is not too impressive. IFK’s injury list will be a bit shorter though, with Paulus Arajuuri, Wilhelm Ingves and Andreas Björk probably returning. On the contrary, Samuel Barlay is banned after being booked one too many times.
HJK have been playing well recently and it seems they can rely on their best squad. Sakari Mattila and Tuomas Aho are doubtful, but other than that HJK are healthy. IFK Mariehamn have more potential than they are showing, but I would say HJK is too much of a challenge for them right now.

FC Haka – VPS

The visitors usually do not concede or score too many goals per game, but TPS came and trashed them last Wednesday. It is interesting to see how VPS have recovered mentally.
VPS are fielding their best squad – Ville Ylinen, Jussi Ekström, Joacim Tuuri and Janne Ahola are out because they join the club’s reserves, VPS-j for the time being. Haka are missing Sebastian Strandvall, Pietari Holopainen is doubtful.
Haka are favourites, but provided VPS can get their act together following their humiliating loss against TPS, the match is going to be an even affair.

RoPS – FC Inter

Inter are still unbeaten in the league, but the hosts have an unbeaten home record.
Ville Nikkari is back for Inter, as well as Patrick Bantamoi, who returns after getting sent off against Honka. Antonio Correia, Arttu Seppälä and Timo Furuholm are still out. Nchimunya Mweetwa is the only absentee for RoPS.
A very difficult game for both sides indeed. Bearing in mind that RoPS are a strong home team and Inter will make a very long trip, I’ll go for a draw or a home win. An away win would not be anything of a surprise, though.

FC Lahti – FC KooTeePee

The guys working at the FC Lahti office can probably add three points to the corresponding column in the league table on their website before they ever watch the game.
FC Lahti are not missing too many players, while Niko Ikävalko, Obinna Okafor, Tommi Vartiainen, Sasha Anttilainen, Tamas Gruborovics, Immo Eronen and Ville Oksanen are missing for KooTeePee.
FC Lahti would be sure-fire favourites even against KooTeePee’s best crop of players, but the absence of so many KooTeePee players will make this game a mere formality. A draw would be a huge surprise, an away win a miracle.
The game is on Urheilukanava at 7 PM on Monday.

TPS – KuPS

TPS have been impressive of late, while KuPS are firmly rooted in the relegation play-off battle.
Chris Cleaver and Simo Valakari are reportedly almost fit to play, whatever that means. Jani Sarajärvi is still out, Janne Vellamo should be okay by now.
Newly relegated KuPS have not much to show of this season’s campaing. They suffered a 4-0 trashing at RoPS, and their confidence is probably quite low. If TPS pick up where they left off against VPS, there should be no doubt about the winner.

Helsinki Times: TamU’s European adventure continues

TAMPERE UNITED won a dramatic tie against Buducnost Podgorica, the champions of Montenegro. A 1-1 draw in the away leg on 23 July was enough to see TamU through after a narrow victory in the home game a week earlier. TamU went 1-0 up through makeshift striker Henri Myntti, but had a nervous finish after Fatos Beciraj equalised on 81 minutes. They held out to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate, and will now face Artmedia Petržalka in the next round. The first leg will be played in Tampere on Wednesday 30 July, kick-off 19:00.

The draw had been particularly unkind to a Tampere side down on their luck after a poor start to the domestic season. Montenegro is a newly independent country and as such their representatives were unseeded, but Buducnost have a proud footballing history, having represented Serbia and Montenegro in the 2005-06 Intertoto Cup. Former Yugoslavian internationals Predrag Mijatovic, Dejan Savicevic and Branko Brnovic all started their careers at the club, and the current side provides the bulk of the nascent Montenegran national team.

Fun and Games

As TamU had to play the second leg away from home, they knew it would be a testing trip. After arrangements had been made and hotels booked, Buducnost moved the game back 24 hours, causing TamU’s players to spend an extra day in Montenegro before the match. “In some countries you can get all kinds of fun and games when you play away second, because they know you can’t get revenge,” observed TamU co-owner Tim Rowe.

TamU are in the same position now, with the first leg in Tampere followed by a trip to Slovakia on 6 August. They will be aiming to repeat their success of last season when they upset the odds to beat Levski Sofia, progressing to the Third Qualifying Round where they lost to Norwegian giants Rosenborg.

After the Buducnost game TamU coach Ari Hjelm talked of the need for bravery and confidence when Finnish teams play in Europe, and it is to be hoped that the two clubs in UEFA Cup action this week will take heed. FC Honka should not need to sweat too much to get past icelanders IA Akrakenes after a 3-0 victory in the home leg, but FC Haka face a tricky home tie against Irish side Cork City.

Russian return

Haka went 2-0 up with goals from Janne Mahlakaarto and Toni Lehtinen in the first leg two weeks ago, but they crumbled under sustained second half pressure and were left hanging on to a 2-2 draw by the end. They played that game without the aviophobic Russian playmaker Valeri Popovitch, but he will be available for the home leg in Valkeakoski.

Haka almost failed to get a license to play in the UEFA Cup this season because of budgetary problems, but since nightclub impressario Seppo ‘Sedu’ Koskinen took control they have been living in interesting times. Koskinen has talked of glamourising Haka by inviting celebrities to games, would like to sign more attractive players so that woman start to attend more regularly, and possibly establish an academy for young African talents. This is some way removed from the down-to-earth ambience currently prevalent at Haka games, and it remains to be seen how their core audience will react.

Teemu Tainio signs for Sunderland

This news has been greeted with fanfare, street parties and celebratory gunfire in parts of the Finnish football community. Too many Finnish players move abroad and rot in the reserves, and Tainio has been desperate to play some games for a long time now. Roy Keane was very happy, according to the Guardian.

“The fact he has played more than 40 international games shows he has a lot to offer,” Keane said. Teemu has shown versatility, playing in different midfield positions for both Tottenham and his previous club Auxerre.”

That is true, but he is effectively a midfield holding player not dissimilar to Keane himself. If he gets a run of games in that position he will do very well for Sunderland, and his potentially increased match fitness will be excellent for Finland too. With Mika Väyrynen also changing clubs this summer, Finland’s midfield could be as strong as it’s been in a long time for the autumn internationals against Germany and Russia.