Veikkausliiga Round 25 preview, part 2

TamU beat Honka 4-3 in an entertaining game that saw TamU stir up the title race once again. A few weeks ago they got a home win against Inter and now the other title candidate was treated to a defeat at their hands.

FC Lahti – IFK Mariehamn

A win would guarantee IFK Mariehamn a place in Veikkausliiga for next year while the Black Drones could use a win too, as it would mean that the fate of bronze medals would then be decided in the last round of games.
IFK Mariehamn have suffered from injuries throughout the season and Arajuuri, Reed, Ochieng, Överström, Blomberg and Chilom are still out. FC Lahti have no injuries apart from Jere Pitkälä, who has been missing for a long time. So yes, the King will play.
It will probaly be an even game as both teams have something to play for. However, I think the home team’s quality and their willingness to bring home the first medals in the club’s history is enough to see off the threat of IFK Mariehamn.

MyPa – FC Inter

MyPa still have a chance of finishing fourth while Inter have an advantage over Honka in the title race.
Tuomas Kuparinen is out for MyPa while Ats Purje, Ville Nikkari, Kito, Felix Åkerlund, Henri Lehtonen, Joni Kauko and Ville Mäkilä are out for Inter. The list looks lengthy, but they have played fairly well without Purje, Nikkari and Kito and Henri Lehtonen, despite being the team captain, can be replaced as he has been fairly average during the season.
I’ve got to go for an away win here. MyPa won’t lose this game easily, but Inter will know that after Honka’s defeat yesterday, a win today will make them champions.

FF Jaro – KuPS

The hosts are safe and have nothing to play for, but are motivated as 2008 has been Jaro’s best season in a long time. KuPS, on the other hand, are threatened by relegation and need a win to have a chance of avoiding the relegation play-offs.
Jonas Portin, Jonas Emet, Vesa Heikinheimo and Jermu Gustaffson are missing from the hosts. KuPS’ Joonas Pöntinen and Petteri Pennanen are away with the U-19 team and Jarno Kauhanen and Echiabhi Okodugha are injured.
Given Jaro’s good season (by their standards), I can’t really see the visitors taking a win. A draw is by all means possible and Jaro could snatch the three points too.

RoPS – VPS

Both teams are safe from relegation. RoPS will probably field some of their own youngsters and that is a welcome move. Janne Turpeenniemi is suspended and Nchimunya Mweetwa and Chileshe Chibwe are out due to injuries. VPS are missing Ville Koskimaa, Jussi Ekström and the suspended Maciej Truszczynski.
It might be a display of nice, creative football or then a crop of uninterested players trying to get it out of the way. The win could go either way and a draw is possible too.

TPS – FC KooTeePee

Perhaps the most uninteresting game of the round. TPS have had a tough, disappointing season and KooTeePee ensured a couple of weeks ago that they are going down to Ykkönen (although I am tempted to say that the relegation was already a foregone conclusion in April).
Kiko is suspended for TPS and Ville Lehtonen, Mika Ääritalo, Jani Sarajärvi and Simo Valakari are missing due to injuries. KooTeePee are missing Niko Ikävalko, Obinna Okafor and Tommi Vartiainen. Tuomo Turunen and Henri Järviniemi are doubtful.
Basically, the question is how big a margin will TPS win by. Maybe Mikko Paatelainen has an answer as he has a chance of being the league’s top scorer this year?
If KooTeePee get anything out of this game, I can only call it ridiculous. A definite home win.

FC Haka – HJK

One of the classics in Finnish football.
Haka will not bring home silverware or European spots this year, HJK are still fighting for bronze medals. Haka are in the Suomen Cup semi finals and the Cup is all they are aiming for.
The hosts are missing Kalle Parviainen and Sebastian Strandvall. HJK are healthy, with the possible exception of Petri Oravainen.
Haka have lost four home games in a row and will want to turn it around in their last home fixture of the season. HJK, however, have more to play for and are favourites.

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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.

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.

Veikkausliiga Round 14 round-up

FF Jaro – Tampere United 1-4
RoPS – FC Inter 0-0

HJK – IFK Mariehamn 4-0

MyPa – FC Honka 0-2

FC Haka – VPS 1-0
FC Lahti – FC KooTeePee 1-0
TPS – KuPS 3-3

Click on the game for highlights. TPS-KuPS should appear later.

Inter still did not lose, but their form is not so amazing anymore. They have drawn six times in their last seven games. Remarkably, except for Sunday’s goalless draw, Inter have scored the first goal in all those seven games. Maybe they get a bit too complacent after scoring?

The coaches in Veikkausliiga are usually quite professional (well, despite the fact that very few of them wear suits and even fewer really care what they wear for games), but sometimes they go a bit too far. Following MyPa’s defeat against Honka on Sunday, MyPa coach Janne Hyppönen was not very happy with Heikki Pulkkinen’s missed penalty.

We have two rules in the team as far as penalties are concerned. Number one, Tuomas Kuparinen will take the penalty if he is on the pitch. Number two, Heikki Pulkkinen will not take the penalty.

What a confidence boost for Pulkkinen. Anyway, MyPa would have preferred someone other than Honka to break their unbeaten run. They are firmly rooted in the race for the title, however, and should not feel too down-hearted.

IFK Mariehamn succumbed to a four-goal trashing against HJK, who are in great form. FC Lahti, unsurprisingly, got three points and the game was awful. TPS compensated their good recent form by producing a horrible performance against KuPS. Two late goals saved them, but they need to solve a few things out before Inter host them in the second Turku derby of the season on Monday.

In the Champions League, Tampere United are half buried after they went down 3-1 in their home game against Artmedia. Egan will probably post more about that, having been there himself. What I heard was that TamU faced the same problems they have encountered in Veikkausliiga this season.

Veikkausliiga Round 14 Preview

Once again, the games start on Saturday and the last one will be played on Wednesday – so if my predictions go wrong as far as Wednesday’s TPS-KuPS is concerned, I’ll blame it on having to write the preview so early.

FF Jaro – Tampere United

This is Saturday’s only game. TamU are probably tired following their trip to Montenegro. Most likely they came back on Thursday, then spent Friday trying to recover and hopped on the bus once again on Saturday morning to make the 300 km trip to Pietarsaari. In addition, Jari Niemi, Mathias Lindström, Tomi Petrescu are missing due to minor injuries, Iiro Aalto and Henri Scheweleff have been out for a while and Henri Myntti is doubtful. Coach Ari Hjelm may also rest some players who have played in the European fixtures. All this will put TamU in a difficult position, but this is professional football and there is no room for complaints.
Jaro are missing Jonas Emet, Vesa Heikinheimo, Toni Junnila and possibly Jimmy Wargh. However, they certainly stand a chance of winning against a TamU squad struggling with injuries.

MyPa – FC Honka

One of the most interesting games of the round. The hosts are second in the league with 25 points while the visitors are occupying the fifth position with 21 points.
MyPa are unbeaten in 11 games and are only missing Aleksei Kangaskolkka and Kuami Agboh. Honka have only one absentee in Nicholas Otaru, so it will be a good game if the injury list is anything to go by.
The game is very difficult to call and a win for either side would not be a surprise. Maybe one should count on MyPa’s great form and home advantage?

HJK – IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamn have not won in nine games and are low on confidence. Their score of five goals in their last ten games is not too impressive. IFK’s injury list will be a bit shorter though, with Paulus Arajuuri, Wilhelm Ingves and Andreas Björk probably returning. On the contrary, Samuel Barlay is banned after being booked one too many times.
HJK have been playing well recently and it seems they can rely on their best squad. Sakari Mattila and Tuomas Aho are doubtful, but other than that HJK are healthy. IFK Mariehamn have more potential than they are showing, but I would say HJK is too much of a challenge for them right now.

FC Haka – VPS

The visitors usually do not concede or score too many goals per game, but TPS came and trashed them last Wednesday. It is interesting to see how VPS have recovered mentally.
VPS are fielding their best squad – Ville Ylinen, Jussi Ekström, Joacim Tuuri and Janne Ahola are out because they join the club’s reserves, VPS-j for the time being. Haka are missing Sebastian Strandvall, Pietari Holopainen is doubtful.
Haka are favourites, but provided VPS can get their act together following their humiliating loss against TPS, the match is going to be an even affair.

RoPS – FC Inter

Inter are still unbeaten in the league, but the hosts have an unbeaten home record.
Ville Nikkari is back for Inter, as well as Patrick Bantamoi, who returns after getting sent off against Honka. Antonio Correia, Arttu Seppälä and Timo Furuholm are still out. Nchimunya Mweetwa is the only absentee for RoPS.
A very difficult game for both sides indeed. Bearing in mind that RoPS are a strong home team and Inter will make a very long trip, I’ll go for a draw or a home win. An away win would not be anything of a surprise, though.

FC Lahti – FC KooTeePee

The guys working at the FC Lahti office can probably add three points to the corresponding column in the league table on their website before they ever watch the game.
FC Lahti are not missing too many players, while Niko Ikävalko, Obinna Okafor, Tommi Vartiainen, Sasha Anttilainen, Tamas Gruborovics, Immo Eronen and Ville Oksanen are missing for KooTeePee.
FC Lahti would be sure-fire favourites even against KooTeePee’s best crop of players, but the absence of so many KooTeePee players will make this game a mere formality. A draw would be a huge surprise, an away win a miracle.
The game is on Urheilukanava at 7 PM on Monday.

TPS – KuPS

TPS have been impressive of late, while KuPS are firmly rooted in the relegation play-off battle.
Chris Cleaver and Simo Valakari are reportedly almost fit to play, whatever that means. Jani Sarajärvi is still out, Janne Vellamo should be okay by now.
Newly relegated KuPS have not much to show of this season’s campaing. They suffered a 4-0 trashing at RoPS, and their confidence is probably quite low. If TPS pick up where they left off against VPS, there should be no doubt about the winner.

1st round of Veikkausliiga

Veikkausliiga started last Sunday with six games and the first round was concluded on Monday as HJK paid a visit to IFK Mariehamn. The results were as follows.

FC InterRoPS 3-1, highlights 1, 2
VPSFC Haka 0-0, highlights
TamUFF Jaro 0-0, highlights
FC KooTeePeeFC Lahti 0-1, highlights
KuPSTPS 0-3, highlights
FC HonkaMyPa 2-0, highlights
IFK MariehamnHJK 0-2, highlights

All title candidates stood their ground with the exception of TamU, who had to settle with a goalless draw against Jaro, who are tipped for a mid-table finish. HJK, TPS and Honka got a two-point lead after the very first round of games and TamU must catch a win next Sunday if they do not want to fall behind during the early stages of the season. They will be favourites to win because they will travel to Rovaniemi to play newly-promoted RoPS, but an inspired RoPS performance against Inter ensured that TamU will not have an easy game coming up. RoPS actually led the game at the 80 minute mark, but seemed to grow tired and stupid mistakes by their defence cost them three goals in the closing stages.

TPS put their game against KuPS in Kuopio beyond all doubt in 35 minutes with Aristides Pertot, Chris Cleaver and Mikko Paatelainen scoring. Head coach Martti Kuusela said the first-half performance was TPS at their best, but it must be kept in mind that a team favoured for the title played one of the relegation candidates. The importance of the next three games cannot be exaggerated, because they will be essential in the team’s title bid. They will face FC Inter in Sunday’s local derby, followed by a trip to Tampere on Thursday the 8th and a crucial home fixture against Honka on the 12th. Most probably they need at least two wins of the following three games.

HJK won a hard victory over IFK Mariehamn, although IFK Mariehamn had all chances of at least drawing the game. With the exception of that and MyPa losing to Honka, teams expected to occupy the mid-table spots come the end of the season kept their nerve. VPS and Haka drew 0-0 despite the attacking performance put on by both sides, FC Lahti won top relegation candidates KooTeePee 1-0 and FF Jaro, as mentioned, got more than expected against TamU.

The highlight of the second round will undoubtedly be the Turku derby between TPS and Inter on Sunday. Inter were not too good against RoPS and they will need to improve considerably. Additionally, they lost Diego Corpache to injury as he was substituted in the first half. However, a derby is always a derby and given their awful performance in the Liigacup final between the sides, TPS are by no means favorites.