Demba Savage signs for FC Honka

That’s about the size of it. I’m very pleased about this, Savage is a skillful, quality player and has deserved his chance for a long time. I’m sure he’ll do a good job for Honka.

It’s good that Finnish clubs have the financial might to sign players like Savage from decent Ykkönen clubs. That has been a problem, as clubs have either not scouted players at that level or haven’t been able to sign them because they couldn’t afford the fees. Honka are currently cash rich after selling Patronen and Maanoja, and using their money to good effect.

I seem to remember accusing Honka of an ‘unimaginative transfer policy’ a while ago. After the last couple of moths, I think I can say that that was 100% horseshit. Sorry.

Honka draw Racing Santander in UEFA Cup First Round

William Moore covers everything pertinent at I did an interview with Mika Lehkosuo this morning, you can here that at the Football in Finland podcast site. It’s a bit rough and ready just now, but it will take shape over the next few weeks and hopefully develop into a weekly programme that doesn’t bore you shitless.

FIF kicks Fjordball’s arse

A year ago, TamU were getting a good seeing to at the hands of Norwegian giants Rosenborg in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round. The Trondheim club have a budget roughly 10 times bigger than TamU, so it was no surprise that Rosenborg ran out easy winners. No shame for a Finnish club in losing to a Norwegian one.

Well, Honka just did Viking in Stavanger to go through to the First Round of the UEFA Cup, which is a frankly astonishing result. The same budgetary problems apply, and remember that Honka have sold three of their better players to Swedish clubs for biggish money in the last year.

Highlights here

Dodgy refs, table-topping stutterers and Daniel Nwoke

TamU had a bizarre night in Lahti last Friday, with an odd refereeing performance, a crucial goalkeeping mistake, three goals in the last minute and a questionable red card, but nobody said anything about match fixing.  You can see the highlights of their 2-2 draw here.

On saturday I went to valkeakoski to see FC Haka vs FC Honka. These two clubs are the last remaining Finnish teams in Europe this season, and to be honest they weren’t that good. Honka got a last minute winner as hundreds of former Haka players swelled the gate to a pathetic 1,500, the old boys being invited as part of a reunion.

Aleksandr Kokko is a decent enough striker, but he was fouled a lot and the referee offered no help. I judge him to be of little threat to TamU’s lethal weapon Henri Myntti at the top of the goalscoring charts, but even so I think Honka are a decent side who will cause some upsets in the title race this year. Honka got a last minute winner and looked a solid bet for third place, or maybe second if HJK mess up their difficult run-in. You can see the goals here.

On Sunday it was Tammela Stadium for me, and TPV against PK-35.  Two words to say about this: Daniel Nwoke. If he doesn’t get a new contract at TamU he will tear Ykkönen apart, but he can probably do a job at Veikkausliiga level. I don’t think he’s that much worse than King Henri, but for whatever reason he hasn’t clicked at TamU and it might be best for everyone if he moves on. PK-35 certainly couldn’t live with him, his finishing and passing were very good and he led the team well. No highlights of this one I’m afraid, but TPV won 2-0 and played much better than their league position suggests. They won’t be relegated this year.

On Monday the two title contenders met at Finnair Stadium in Helsinki. It was an excellent game between two evenly matched teams, but it was in the end decided by errors. Patrick Bantamoi should have come off injured before the freekick that gave HJK their first goal, Jos Hooiveld should have stayed closer to Dawda Bah for the second, and Domagol Abramovic was very grateful for slack HJK passing for his second. Medo got the winner in the last minute with a deflected strike. On this evidence Inter are a better team and will win the title, especially given the tough games HJK have coming up. You can see the highlights here.

One thing for HJK to note: stick a few of the free tickets up near the journos next time you want a big crowd, because a 7,000+ crowd does not look credible when you know the names of everyone in the stand. And that is only 20 people. Jonas Von Wendt mentioned this in Hufvudstadsbladet today, saying the crowd was probably around 5,000, and it certainly felt that way. I still can’t get my head round a stadium that  only holds 10,770 people and manages to make them all so far away from the pitch. What’s the point?

I would talk about PoPa’s American who uses the word ‘twat’ (a very British swear word) when abusing linesmen, but I’m very tired and I reckon that probably deserves it’s own post. Tomorrow, maybe.

Perparim Hetemaj v Jussi Jääskeläinen

Veikkausliiga Round 18 preview, part 1

FC Lahti and TamU kicked off the 18th round on Friday and the matched ended in a 2-2 draw. Dramatically, TamU were up by one until the 90th minute. Then Jari Litmanen scored in stoppage time and two minutes later Jonne Kemppinen gave the hosts the lead. Nobody expected TamU to get a result anymore, but Toni Järvinen scored on the 11th hour to settle the final score.

Saturday 23rd, 17:00 FC Haka – FC Honka

This is a sixpointer. Honka are third in the league and Haka are sixth, trailing their opponents by three points.
Their encounter in the spring ended in Honka’s 7-0 victory, but a similar result is an unlikely event. Haka have some new players, and off-pitch issues that caused speculation around the last Honka game are now a thing of the past.
Haka are missing Pietari Holopainen, Mikko Innanen and Sebastian Strandvall. Honka’s Tuomo Turunen will return from suspension.
The game is difficult to call, but having an unbeaten record of eight unbeaten games, I would pick Honka to for the favourites – despite the fact that they have never got an away win at Haka.

Sunday 24th, 18:30

TPS – MyPa

MyPa are trying hard to reach the European spots, and TPS are targeting similar positions in the table.
TPS have Jani Sarajärvi, Janne Vellamo, Simo Valakari and Jarno Heinikangas missing, but will still field a good squad. Their most interesting player is their new Danish striker Simon Azoulay Pedersen. MyPa, on the other hand, are missing Tuomas Kuparinen and Juho Nykänen.
TPS are a very unpredictable team. One night they play really well and give their opponents no chance, another night they look like they have never even seen a football. Sometimes they play really well, but end up losing anyway. This could really be a win for either side and a draw is by all means possible too.
The season’s first game between these teams ended in MyPa’s 1-0 home win.

RoPS – FF Jaro

Rovaniemi is a tough place for any team to go. On the other hand, RoPS have not won nor scored in their last four games. Jaro got a surprise win against MyPa two weeks ago and have not played since, because their last Sunday’s game at IFK Mariehamn was cancelled.
RoPS are fairly healthy, their only notable absentee is Mika Nurmela, who is suspended after collecting too many yellow cards.
Jaro are quite the opposite. Vesa Heikinheimo, Kristian Kojola, Jens Portin and Toni Junnila are all out, Jari Sara is doubtful. They have reinforced their squad with defenders Jordan Simpson and Jermu Gustafsson (on loan from Inter) and midfielder Joonas Laurikainen (on loan from KaaPo).
Both teams are looking to stay clear of relegation and occupy a mid-table position, so this game is important for both sides. Maybe we will see another draw, like in the spring?

VPS – IFK Mariehamn

Another important game, especially for the visitors, whose recent form has seen them go down to sharing the relegation play-off spot with KuPS.
IFK Mariehamn have had problems with their goalkeepers, but with their new acquisition, Dan Alexandru Chisom, things look better. Arash Bayat will also make a debut for the islanders.
VPS are missing Tony Björk. Other than that, VPS coach Tomi Kärkkäinen has said they can field a good squad.
VPS have had problems with scoring and even creating chances in their recent fixtures. IFK Mariehamn, for their part, have not won for a long time, so both teams have a chance of regaining some of their lost confidence.

Baxter’s dress rehearsal: Finland 2 Israel 0

Stuart Baxter said that the Israel game would be a dress rehearsal for the Germany match in September, and he was pretty relieved that it went as well as it did. The high spot was Veli Lampi’s full debut, as the former TPS right back looked solid and put in some excellent crosses including the one from which Jonatan Johansson nodded in the first goal. Roman Eremenko also had a good game, playing some excellent through balls to Mikael Forsell and generally looking calm and assured. Jari Litmanen had a decent cameo, setting up the second goal from a free kick and linking up play well when Finland were beginning to tire.

Both coaches commented on set pieces after the game. Baxter said that he was pleased with the way they executed them offensively and defensively, and that 50% of all international goals come from set plays. That figure apparently goes up to 65% when you include set pieces that are cleared and then come straight back. The Israeli coach Dror Kashtan said that he was very disappointed with their defending at set pieces, they practice those situations and should know how to deal with them, but also that Finland deserved the win because they controlled the play in the first half and Israel didn’t take advantage when they had the edge in the second.

That period of play followed an incident that enraged the Finnish players. Maor Buzaglo, a livewire 20 year old winger who came on at half time, went down clutching his leg after a robust challenge from fellow substitute Tony Kallio. The ball was kicked out to allow Buzaglo to receive treatment, but instead of waiting for the physio’s magic sponge the Maccabi Tel Aviv man jumped up, sprinted down the wing to receive the throw in, and put in a cross for Ben Sahar (who, showing he’d learnt a lot from his time on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, promptly sliced it wide).

Baxter reckoned this upset the Finns’ concentration, and I agree with him. Israel had a lot of chances after that and should really have scored at least one of them.

One other thing mentioned in the press conference was that Finland tried a few things that they thought might upset Germany, but they didn’t want to say what they were. Having seen the German central defenders’ pace and mobility, I reckon its possible that one of these things was playing lots of through balls for Forsell to run on to.

I should have a word for Tampere’s response to the game, and that word should probably be ‘terrible’. The crowd was less than 5,000 and most of those braved uncovered seating on a day that had been dominated by pissing rain. the whole crowd could have squeezed into Tammela and nobody would have risked getting wet (it didn’t actually rain during the match, but it did for 6 hours solid up until a few minutes before kick-off. I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t already have a ticket).

Tampere needs a proper football stadium with proper facilities for the fans, and Ratina is not it. Visitors from Helsinki described the toilets as ‘worse than a wall to piss against’, and the atmosphere as ‘appalling’. When the attendance was announced a chant of ‘Helsinki’ went up, and it’s difficult to disagree with ithe sentiment. This game should have been played in Vaasa, Kotka, Kuopio, hell, maybe even in Pori? They are attracting big crowds to Kakkonen games there, they would surely have sold out an international. It’s clear that Tampere does not have the facilities for international football, and the enthusiasm is not there to hide that definciency at the moment.

U21: Finland 1 Sweden 1

The respective U21 sides of Finland and Sweden had nothing between them as their friendly match in Turku drew to a close, and the result – one goal for each – reflected the proceedings quite well.

The hosts started the game well, with Tomi Petrescu, Perparim Hetemaj, Berat Sadik and Tim Sparv all causing trouble to Finland’s western neighbours – who, after all, started the scoring. In a sudden wave of generosity, Joni Aho of FC Inter kindly donated the ball to Emir Bajrami. Tomi Maanoja, who was Finland’s keeper in the first half, went to great lengths in order to cancel out Aho’s mistake, but was powerless to resist when Bajrami got another chance from the rebound.

“We started the game well but got too complacent, and it backfired when Aho made the mistake”, commented head coach Markku Kanerva in the post-match press conference, adding that Aho recovered well enough to put in a solid performance after all.

Perparim Hetemaj had to be taken off just before the referee signalled an end to the first half as he suffered what is hopefully a minor injury. More changes were made during half-time: Maanoja made way to Anssi Jaakkola of AC Siena and Aho, Tuomo Turunen, Tomi Petrescu and Berat Sadik accompanied the new AIK signing in the shower.

Among the incoming players was Jarno Parikka, who was released by Mehmet Hetemaj three minutes into the second half. Parikka’s strike saw Finland back on level terms, and no goals were yet to be seen. Sweden were slighly in control for the remainder of the night, but had to face one of the key issues involved with every football game: ball possession does not win matches. They did not cause a remarkable threat, owing in part to the linesman, whose interpretation of the offside rule frustrated Ola Toivonen to the extent that in the end he put the ball in the net despite hearing the whistle blow.

Finland’s first half formation, 4-3-3, clearly worked better than the formation of four midfielders and two strikers they switched to before the second half. However, Kanerva could not be drawn into assessing his tactical decisions. “I am more concerned about who I select for the team and who I leave out”, he assured, declaring that he still has not decided who will be the team’s goalkeeper in the upcoming qualification fixtures against Denmark and Slovenia.

Inter sail on under lucky stars

KuPS – HJK 3-2
VPS – FC KooTeePee 1-1
MyPa – RoPS 1-0
FC Honka – TPS 2-2
TamU – FC Haka 1-1
FC Inter – FC Lahti 1-0
IFK Mariehamn – FF Jaro CANCELLED

Inter have signed a great deal with the football gods. They won FC Lahti in front of over 8000 people willing to see Jari Litmanen in action, the difference between the sides being Mika Ojala’s beautiful – and somewhat lucky – freekick. Besides winning, almost everything else went just like they wanted: FC Haka failed to win at Tampere United, FC Honka were able to limit TPS to a draw, and most notably, HJK gave away three points during the second half after they had gone up by two at KuPS. Inter are now topping the league by a margin of five points. Their next game away at HJK might be decisive as far as the title is concerned and interestingly, HJK are the only team who have managed to beat Inter. That was the game that dropped Inter out of the cup.

KooTeePee are improving. They are now unbeaten in two games. That does not sound like a lot, but KooTeePee are one of the crappiest teams in the history of Finnish football.

The pitch at Maarianhamina’s Wiklöf Holding Arena was soaked, so there was no game. It has been raining in the island since Saturday and they teams together with the referee decided to call it a day 1,5 hours before the match was scheduled to start. Rumours are saying that Jaro would have wanted to play the game on Monday. I understand that, since that would probably spare them another trip to the island, but I’m glad IFK did not agree to do so. This is a professional league, and games should not be scheduled with a notice that would most conveniently be counted in hours rather than days.

Israel squad and Baxter’s thoughts

This is the squad for Finland v Israel on Wednesday:

Jussi Jääskeläinen, Bolton Wanderers, 42 /   0
Niki Mäenpää, FC Den Bosch, 1 /   0
Magnus Bahne, Halmstads BK, 2 /   0

Hannu Tihinen, FC Zürich, 64 /   4
Veli Lampi, FC Zürich, 8 /   0
Petri Pasanen, Werder Bremen, 45 /   1
Ari Nyman, FC Thun, 18 /   0
Toni Kuivasto, Djurgårdens IF, 72 /   1
SamiHyypiä, Liverpool FC, 90 /   5
Niklas Moisander, AZ Alkmaar, 1 /   0
Toni Kallio, Fulham FC, 39 /   2

Midfielders and attackers
Joonas Kolkka, NAC Breda, 86 / 11
Markus Heikkinen, SK Rapid Wien, 36 /   0
Teemu Tainio, Sunderland AFC, 43 /   6
Roman Eremenko, Udinese Calcio, 9 /   0
Mika Väyrynen, PSV Eindhoven, 36 /   2
Daniel Sjölund, Djurgårdens IF, 15 /   1
Jonatan Johansson, Malmö FF, 89 / 14
Mikael Forssell, Hannover, 55 / 17
Jari Litmanen, FC Lahti, 114 / 30
Mika Ääritalo, TPS,  0 /    0

This is the squad for the Finland v Sweden Under 21 match in Turku on Wednesday:

Jaakkola Anssi, AC Siena (ITA) 5 / 0
Maanoja Tomi, AIK (SWE)   6 / 0
Aho Joni, FC Inter   5 / 0
Jalasto Ville, FC Honka 11 / 1
Gustafsson Jermu, FF Jaro   5 / 0
Kärkkäinen Pyry, FC Lahti   7 / 0
Raitala Jukka  , HJK 10 /   0
Portin Jonas, FF Jaro 11 / 0
Turunen Tuomo, FC Honka   9 / 1
Hakola Juha, FC Flora   2 / 0
Hetemaj Mehmet, Panionios NFC (GRE)   9 / 1
Hämäläinen Kasper, TPS 11 / 2
Äijälä Ilari, MyPa   2 / 0
Petrescu Tomi, Tampere United   4 / 1
Sparv Tim, Halmstads BK (SWE) 10 / 4
Hetemaj Perparim, AEK Athens FC (GRE)   9 / 2
Kokko Aleksandr, FC Honka   0 / 0
Parikka Jarno, HJK 11 / 1
Sadik Berat, DSC Arminia Bielefeld (GER)   8 / 1

And here is the press conference at which Baxter announced his squad and explained his choices:

And hereis an interesting interview Mikael Forsell did with

“Our players are ready for a major tournament. We’re simply missing everything else that goes with it. Finnish football isn’t where it needs to be yet, there’s still a lot of development to do.”

I’m off to Turku to gawp at Jari Litmanen, and will hopefully have some moderately exciting new features for you next week. Updates have been sporadic recently because I’m working on a couple of new things. You’ll see them soon enough, but first will probably be something about the foreign youngsters in Mälmo pledging their allegiance to Sweden. Ola Toivonen isn’t the only one, so what are they doing right that Finland isn’t?