The two semi finals were played last night, and to be honest I was embarassed for all four teams, everyone that went to watch them, and the competition itself. The game I saw was Haka v Honka, and finished 1-0 to the Espoo side, but it was a travesty of a match.
First the positives: Rasmus Schuller, a 17 year old midfielder with a calm head, played his third game for Honka. He did not look out of place, he was composed, and I think he will play a much bigger role for Honka next season. Jaakko Lepola also played, and his quick feet and brain will stand Honka’s midfield in very good stead over the next few years. That’s it for the positives, sorry.
Playing for Haka were Toni Lehtinen – rumoured to be on his way to Honka for next season – and Cheyne Fowler, who will be wearing a HJK shirt in 2009.
I did wonder whether Lehtinen was likely to do his best to score against possible future team mates, and when he inexplicably missed the target in a one on one during the first half, eyebrows were metaphorically raised in the Haka stands. If you can call a shout of ‘fuck off Lehtinen’ a ‘ metaphorically raised eyebrow’.
Fowler put in a decent performance, but you can understand why he might not want to put himself about too much. When he got a knock late in the game he went off straight away, presumably so as to avoid jeopardising his HJK contract.
There was another dimension to Fowler’s game. A Honka victory means that their opponents in the final will qualify automatically for the UEFA Cup, as Honka already qualified through league position. That means HJK, Fowler’s new club. It’s quite a dilemma for a player, if losing a game can guarantee he plays in Europe for his new team.
This kind of thing is unavoidable to an extent, as the final is the last game of the season and players will always agree to move before it is played. But the semi finals should be done and dusted a long way before, in order to avoid the farcical situation we had last night. Haka put in a performance very similar to many others this season, but the ability to calculate European qualification at the Semi Final or even quarter final stage (TamU and Honka played theirs last week) should not be available to teams, players, agents and managers.
This is a scheduling issue, and it will only get worse next year. The Under 21 European Championships will necessitate a break in the domestic schedule, as Finland qualified, and the UEFA Europa League will have 48 teams in the group stages, a big expansion on the current 40. Tampere United and FC Honka have both come close to qualifying for the UEFA Cup in recent years, and Honka will be aiming to get there this time. If they do, the Finnish Cup will probably not be played until the following March.
It looks like the 2009 Veikkausliiga will once again have all the rythmn of Mohamed Al Fayed. Two games a week will be played in May, there will be a month long break, and then the final rounds of the Cup will be played once everyone knows the final league table.