To sell or not to sell?

Juha raised a good question the other day about Finnish teams in Europe. Are they happy to draw big clubs, in the expectation that they will get a drubbing and a bumper crowd, or do they prefer to get the unkown teams that might offer a chance of progress? TamU’s co-owner Tim Rowe was rather annoyed at drawing Buducnost in the first qualifying round, because they are neither a big club nor a pushover, so a small crowd and an exit was a possibility: the worst of all worlds, in other words.

TamU are out of the CL now, after a 4-2 defeat in the second leg against Artmedia, but they have become a good veikkausliiga side. At the start of the season they were a bad Veikkausliiga team, whereas last season they were playing a different sport to most other teams in the division. The sale of Juska Savolainen hurt them a lot, as pointed out loudly and repeatedly by Ari Hjelm, and you do wonder what might have happened if they’d gambled a bit and kept hold of him for another crack at the Champions League. This season’s TamU would have a good chance against Kaunas or Aalborg, never mind one with Juska in it as well.

But that’s by the by. TamU are now a side with a big centre forward, to whom they do not just ‘lump it up’ as I put it before. Pohja and James come deep to collect the ball, and if and when a cross to Myntti comes, it is usually a quality ball that catches the defence out. Only occasionally do they hit a long ball, and when they do Myntti usually wins it and lays it off. Against Artmedia TamU lost the midfield battle and were forced into long balls more often, with the Slovakians well prepared, tall and able to physically defend Myntti. Veikkausliiga teams don’t seem to have grasped that skill yet, but when RoPS were winning the midfield battle they had chances to score and TamU looked poor.

It will be interesting to see how TPS cope with Myntti on Saturday. Against Inter they were abject, unable to cope with Joni Aho striding out of defence or Jos Hooiveld’s heading ability at corners. The one bright spot for Martti Kuusela is that his ploy of using Chris Cleaver at right back worked quite well, with Purje inneffective for much of the game.

In the stands it was an even contest, with TPS having a slight edge in the early stages but suffering from inflexibility towards the end. They sat in the Veritas Stand opposite the Inter fans, a much better position for the away support to occupy than the usual spot at the other end of the same stand, and were very loud in the early stages. Their ‘the city is black and white’ chant was particularly apt as the 8,254 crowd seemed to be split pretty evenly between Tepsi and Inter fans, despite it being an Inter home game.

But when Inter took the lead and their fans started asking if TPS’s Sissi Ryhmä were going to turn their backs again, they had no answer. A bad day for TPS, with Kuusela conceding the title was a lost cause and a thorough seeing to from their crosstown rivals, but I was most interested in Job Dragtsma’s reactions.

I like him, his team has always tried to play good football and he is finally seeing some success for his efforts. He seems much harder this season though, a bit less relaxed and occasionally going apoplectic on the bench, entirely losing his cool Dutch aura. He had good reason on Monday, as Inter players were consistently getting scythed down and the referee only booking their players. With games against Haka, Lahti and HJK coming up, Inter have a golden opportunity to stride ahead of the pack in the next couple of weeks and you sense that Dragtsma knows it – the other possibility is that Inter lose top spot and have to fight like hell to get it back.


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.

European draws

The draws for the first qualifying round of the European competitions were made today. The Finnish clubs all have a good chance of progression. In the UEFA Cup Haka will play Cork City and Honka will take on ÍA Akranes of Iceland. Cork are a good side with a growing fan base and I expect them to give Haka a good game. O’Connells will be packed out that week, no doubt.

In the Champions League, Tampere United will play Budućnost Podgorica of Montenegro. They’ll need to be on top form against a team containing several Monetenegran Under 21 internationals. TamU’s will need to improve on their lacklustre performances so far this season if they’re not to come a cropper. If they manage to get past Buducnost, they will play Maltese champions Valetta or Slovakian student drama group Artmedia Bratislava.

One thing I am looking forward to is the arrival of Varvari in Tampere, if they turn up. I once saw two busloads of Partizan Belgrade basketball fans get a right shoeing from the Podgorica police, but Varvari were nowhere to be seen.