Honka v Racing Santander live blog

I’ve got shitloads of things to do right now, exams, seminars and the like, and so posting will be a bit light this week. I would like to advertise our coverage of the Honka-Santander match on Thursday, though.

I’ll be there, and will do a live blog of minute-by-minute updates on the game. You’ll have to keep refreshing the page but it will, hopefully, keep you up to date with what’s happening. There is no TV coverage of the match, as an ice hockey friendly is being played on the night and that takes precedence in Finland, so this might be the best way to keep up with things.

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New Champions

There will be new Veikkausliiga champions this year. HJK lost 3-2 at home to Jaro last night, and today’s papers are enjoyably miserable for anyone who didn’t want HJK to win it. Jussi Aalto got two of the goals, and HJK missed a lot of chances, but in the end it was Aalto’s clinical finishing that showed his old club the way.

Iltasanomat was predictably miserable about the crowd, which was just over 2,000, and the fact that Sakari Mattila is probably going to go to Italy at the end of the season. There’s nothing much to be said about the first, apart from pointing out that Finnair Stadium is yet another Finnish ground that seems to have been designed with total contempt for the paying fan.

IS took the low figure as an indication that Helsinki people don’t have faith in HJK this year, which is depressing enough. They still have to qualify for Europe somehow, and they could easily mess that up if Lahti have a good run-in. The title is not impossible, especially as Honka still have to play Inter away, so it’s difficult to see exactly what the problem is. There wasn’t even a hockey match HJK could blame for the poor turn-out.

As for Mattila going abroad, well…. what do you want to do about it? HJK get rid of lots of players every year and get highly paid replacements. Aalto was better than the foreign returnees Roiha and Oravainen, and is, most likely, a hell of a lot cheaper. Tamasz Sajdak just left HJK because he wasn’t getting playing time thanks to the excellent form of Jarno Parika, but why was he signed in the first place? And how much money did HJK waste on that signing?

Honka and Inter both sign good young players and don’t stand in their way if and when they want to move abroad. That’s the only way for any Finnish club to operate, HJK included, and they could do worse than investigate why they have wasted talent like Aalto’s.

All that said, Mika Laurikainen’s team are playing some lovely stuff at present. They move the ball quickly, have pace on and off the ball, their striker Mikko Hyyrynen is in great form, and they have a lot of confidence at the moment. They were very good at Haka last week, and you wonder what they will achieve next year if they can keep this group of players together.

Highlights here

Smoked out

Tampere United fans were a little bit disgruntled on Sunday. They had been chucked out of the HJK match en masse for letting off smoke bombs, a ridiculous over-reaction and unnecessary collective punishment. The first half of the VPS match was extremely dull as a result, as the Sinikaarti section was empty and the fans stood outside the fence.

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The caption reads ‘some smokes – 100 punished’.

The fans stood outside in the first half and put their banner up out there:

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Things were better in the second half, when they returned and seemed much louder than usual. That effect was probably just a result of their absence, and silence in the first half, but it amply demonstrated that Tampere United are really nothing without Sinikaarti. You can have all the free ticketers, all the ligging sponsor’s guests, all the junior teams you like, but they are no replacement for paying fans who care about the team. Not enough people in Finnish football understand that.

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Yle vs. Urheilukanava

Yle started their Veikkausliiga broadcasts today as FF Jaro played FC Lahti. The system in Finland is quite interesting: Urheilukanava broadcast the games from April to September, and Yle are only interested when the title is about to be won. The move from Urheilukanava to Yle may raise the number of people watching, as Urheilukanava is a channel directed at sports people and the popular Yle channels have something for everyone – except football fans.

I was prepared for my daily dose of football well in advance, and out of an old habit I turned on the TV half an hour before the game to watch the pre-game analysis – but instead, I had to watch men with bags full of testosterone tune a Ford Ranchero.When the broadcast started, only 10 minutes prior to kick-off, I only saw a widely unknown guy from Yle standing next to Juha Malinen, who had nothing interesting to say during the lucrative five minutes dedicated to the pre-match analysis.

After the game, the same team made a desperate attempt to discuss the game in a quarter of an hour, including post-match interviews. The ratings aside, difference between Yle and Urheilukanava was huge, to the advantage of the latter. If Yle really wants to broadcast the games, why not do it properly? In Urheilukanava, two highly enthusiastic football lovers dedicate 25 minutes to predicting the game before Finland’s best commentator, Tuomas Virkkunen, takes over.

And the same formula is used for every game, be it a largely uninteresting encounter between two mid-table teams or a highly anticipated clash between two top teams. Yle then interferes and ruins the whole thing for the most interesting games of the season. In addition to not doing things properly, they also force changes in the schedules. The televised game always starts at 4 PM, while other fixtures are kicked off at 7:30 as usual.

Anyway, KuPS suffered an expected 4-0 loss at Inter on Friday and they weren’t much helped on Sunday by TPS, whose new, more spirited style of play under John Allen meant a 2-1 loss to the struggling IFK Mariehamn. To cancel out Inter’s win, Honka took an expected win over KooTeePee and HJK took the win they needed at MyPa, the score being 3-1. FC Lahti had to settle with a 2-2 draw at Jaro and VPS got a point at TamU with each team scoring once.

There’s three points separating FC Honka from table-topping Inter, and if neither of the teams stumble, their clash in Turku on 5th October will be of a decisive nature as far as the title is concerned. HJK are five points away from the top and will have to use the backdoor if they want to join the title race. Other teams are ruled out unless miracles happen.

Musan Salama 1 FC Jazz Juniors 1

Salama Kioski

I should make a declaration here: I have strong Musa sympathies. It wasn’t really a day to be neutral, given that the top of the Kolmonen table looked like this in the morning, before the last game of the season:

FC Jazz Juniors, pl 17 pts 45

Musan Salama, pl 17 pts 44

So Musa needed to win to overtake Jazz and get into the play-offs for promotion to Kakkonen. They are a tortuous procedure involving two sides from Vaasa and central Ostrobothnia and one each from Tampere and Satakunta. It is not usually that difficult to get promotion that way, as a lot of clubs don’t try too hard because they cannot afford the increased costs and regular drubbings that would come with a season in Kakkonen.

Young fans

But I digress. Musa, always the third club in Pori behind PoPa and FC Jazz, have in recent years yo-yo’d between Kakkonen and Kolmonen. Jazz are the heirs of PPT, who my more biased contacts in Musa regard as being slightly flasher and brasher than is altogether necessary. The reformed team gained successive promotions in 2006 and 2007, after tax-paying difficulties forced the senior side into bankruptcy in 2004.

That unfortunate incident is the reason they are called ‘juniors’, despite one or two beer guts and bald patches among their players. They have also signed a couple of players from Musa this season, adding a little bit more needle to what was already a big match for both sides.

GOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!

There is a thriving transfer market among the Pori clubs, and indeed one of the anticipated effects of PoPa’s elevation to Ykkönen is an influx of new players to their squad, which will in turn free up a better standard of player for Musa and Jazz to sign. The local paper carried a story about PoPa’s recruitment plans for next season (they secured promotion last weekend), illustrated by a picture of Antti Sumiala – 85% owner and centre forward at PoPa; used to play for NEC Nijmegen, Vaduz, and Kansas City Wizards, among many others – holding up a globe in front of a rickety looking plane that hopefully isn’t in service.

Scoreboard

The plan is that PoPa will look to South America for their players next year, using Piracaia‘s contacts. Their budget this season is €200,000, and manager Rami Nieminen says that they are looking to increase it by 30-50%. That would give them a budget of €260,000-€300,000 (I am a maths genius, I know), which is not too shabby at Ykkönen level and should allow them to compete.

Satakunnan Kansa’s Anne Sivula argues that they should use this to sign players who have left Pori and would like to return, citing Inter Turku goalkeeper Oskari Forsman’s recent comment that he would like to play Veikkausliiga football in Pori.

It is not a binary choice, of course. The ideal situation is to have high quality imports and motivated homegrown players, rather than headline catching Brazilians who might or might not succeed. Whichever route PoPa choose to take, they will sign new players and that will allow both Jazz and Musa to strengthen their sides, which will continue the renaissance of football in Pori. It’s not quite back to the level it was in the 1990s, but it’s getting there.

Full time

Anyway, the game. Christ, the game. Musa started as if they’d been drinking heavily last night, and were lucky to get to half time at 0-0. Jazz hit the post and sliced open Musa again and again, with Joao Gaetti showing a vision to spot passes that compensated for his slight paunch and lack of pace. Jarno Ruisniemi was quick and occasionally dangerous for Musa, but Jazz always seemed to have an extra man and Ruisniemi kept getting outnumbered.

There was a passage of play that amused me greatly, when the shouty Jazz bench encouraged their strikers to chase the ball down. The Musa defence, just shaking off their hangovers 20 minutes into the game, were a bit surprised but quickened their passing. Gaetti and his strike partner ran for a bit but after 30 seconds they needed a breather and dropped back to the halfway line.

This seemed to rouse Musa a little, and for 20 minutes either side of half time they were on top, culminating in a goal from Juha Vallin on 64 minutes. They then dropped a little too deep trying to defend the lead, but seemed pretty comfortable and when Jazz hit the woodwork again it looked like their moment had passed. Musa broke free on one occasion and inexplicably missed with three players forward and only the keeper to beat, and then, right at the end, Aleksi Nurminen headed the equaliser that takes Jazz into the play-offs.

There are a load more pictures here and here.

Kiitoksia

Finland’s young guns frighten Germany

Finland were without Jari Litmanen when they took on European Championship runners-up Germany at the Olympic Stadium, but they still managed to put in an excellent performance in Stuart Baxer’s first competitive game in charge, drawing the match 3-3.

EGAN RICHARDSON

HELSINKI TIMES

FINLAND PLAYED without Jari Litmanen and scored three times against the second best team in Europe. Whatever else comes from the first game of the World Cup qualification campaign, that should be remembered. Litmanen’s fitness has been a dominating theme in the build up to a lot of Finland matches in recent years.

When plans for a statue of Litmanen were discussed in Lahti, wags cruelly suggested that the sculpture should have a glass ankle, so that it could again be broken and remoulded and journalists could fill their word counts by once more guessing the state of Litmanen’s leg.

Finland coach Stuart Baxter had attempted to draw a line under such speculation by clearly setting out the criteria Litmanen would have to meet before being selected for the national side.

The jist was that Litmanen would have to be playing regularly for his club side, and it was this stipulation that led the former Ajax striker to sign for his home town club, FC Lahti, for the end of the Finnish season. He missed out on the Germany game through a bout of flu.

Litmanen is a legend, and is welcome in the Finnish squad, but if he is not fit and in-form then the national side has to have another plan. And what a plan they now have, under a coach favouring a more expansive style than the one employed by the often dour Roy Hodgson.

The Finnish midfield was rejuvenated, breaking forward from midfield and playing early balls for strikers Jonatan Johansson and Mikael Forsell to run onto. Mika Väyrynen was particularly impressive, pinging in the second goal and setting up Daniel Sjölund for the third.

Väyrynen’s situation encapsulates the lot of the Finnish footballer. He left his home country aged just nineteen, and after a successful four years at Heerenveen he got his big move to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.

Injuries at crucial times hampered his career at PSV, and after three years there he has now returned to Heerenveen, where the club’s management are less able to replace injured players with big new signings.

Finns are far away from home, if they are successful, and can lack allies when team selection becomes political. For instance Sami Hyypiä, omitted from Liverpool’s Champions League squad because of UEFA’s new quota system for home-grown players, is at a clear disadvantage because he is not playing in his home country.

Swedish players have this option at a much earlier stage than Finns, and often take advantage of it. Henrik larsson moved from Barcelona to Helsingborg, and has since played two full seasons there as well as playing for the national side, and Anders Svensson rejuvenated his international career after moving back to IF Elfsborg at the age of 29.

It would be difficult to imagine a Finnish player similarly changing perceptions and cementing a career in the national side from a Veikkausliiga club. The Swedish squad for their recent qualifers included four home-based players, whereas Baxter only called up Tampere United’s Antti Pohja from Veikkausliiga.

Finland’s football clubs just cannot pay the same salaries as Allsvenskan sides, and the option to play at their home club means a loss of income and prestige that is just too big for Finns to consider until their mid to late thirties.

The root cause of this problem is the lack of a distinctive footballing identity among Finnish clubs, players and coaches. He argues that Finland needs a style, an ethos in order for everyone to know their jobs more thoroughly and to have confidence in the tactical plan he lays out. On the evidence of the Germany game, it seems as though Finland will play an up-tempo, aggressive style of football that is good enough to trouble the world’s best teams.

Baxter has said that he wants his Finland to have two or three younger leaders to replace Litmanen. If Eremenko (20 years old) and Väyrynen (26) continue to play as well as they did against Germany, Finland may well have found them, and journalists might not need the glass ankled statue to write about.

Helsinki Times column: Does Finland have a football culture?

The question is often asked. A lot of people think that Finland has no football culture, that this country does not understand or properly appreciate the game, that its players are unloved and it’s teams ignored. To those people the mere phrase “football culture” is anathema, something that happens elsewhere, irrelevant to Finland.

Of course some manifestations of Finnish football culture are allowed. Watching English Premier League matches is something almost everyone does, and supporting the national team is damn near unavoidable for most Finns, whatever the sport.

But Finland fans have taken things to another level in recent years. During the last qualification campaign their tifos invoked the national epic, Kalevala, as well as paying tribute to Jari “the King” Litmanen before the final home match of the group.

The latter display nearly moved Litmanen to tears, and more recently the Under 21 coach Markku Kanerva has thanked Finland’s fans for their support during the crucial Euro 2009 qualifier against Denmark.

Finland’s fans are at present seen as a positive thing, and the flares they use before and during matches are always featured in media reports on the support given to the national team. They look cool, so of course they get in the papers.

Unfortunately this tolerance is not extended to every fan group. Tampere United’s supporter group Sinikaarti were recently thrown out of the ground en masse after letting off smoke bombs, and those incidents always result in fines for the club involved.

Whether or not this tolerance lasts, Finland’s fans should be proud of a good display against Germany. They showed a side of “football culture” that is often misunderstood and derided based on perceived problems in neighbouring countries.

Stamping on these problems before they happen is pointless and counter-productive, so lets hope the national team’s supporters can introduce Finns to a new way of watching football. They make the game a hell of a lot more exciting and should be encouraged as much as possible.