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.

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TamU find some form at last

This game pretty much defined ‘tricky away leg’. Buducnost represented Serbia and Montenegro in European competition in 2005-06, and were easily the toughest side TamU could have drawn. If last year’s First Qualifying Round tie against SS Murata was little more than a stroll, this year’s was always going to be tough. After the late goal Beciraj scored in Tampere, TamU were written off by a lot of the Finnish media, and there was some bizarre criticism of a ‘lack of football culture’ apparently evidenced by the failure to charter a plane to go to Montenegro.

Evidently a proper football culture involves pissing about with the kick-off time, moving it back 24 hours after your opponents have already booked their flights and hotels. Rather than actually winning any games or anything. In the end TamU came through unscathed, an early Myntti goal ensured that TamU got a 1-1 draw and will face Artmedia Bratislava in the Second Qualifying round, with the first leg to be played at Ratina next Wednesday, kick off 7pm. Tickets are on sale to season ticket holders today, and everyone else from tomorrow.

I think only one journalist went to Montenegro, and there was no coverage of the game on Finnish radio or television. It sometimes seems like certain sections of the media would like to strangle football culture before it has the chance to grow, but I suppose some editors might now agree to send people to Bratislava for the second leg. I look forward to the debate about whether or not either game will be on TV. I recommend buying tickets, as this is holiday season and an OB at short notice seems like a lot of hard work – I’m not sure the game will get TV coverage.

There are no highlights available from the Buducnost away leg, but you can see some team that is already out of Europe beat some other team that didn’t even qualify here.

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.