Toni Lehtinen signs for Levadiakos

Former FC Haka striker Toni Lehtinen has signed for Levadiakos, according to the Greek daily Sportday. His contract will run until the end of the 2009-2010 season, with an option for a further year, and he will earn around €80,000 a year.

Lehtinen has been at Haka since 2003, and has played 104 league games, scoring 39 goals. He has been on trial at VFL Bochum and Eintracht Braunschweig in recent years. He has been on the fringes of the national squad, but needs a good season if he is to have any hope of forcing his way into the reckoning, especially after Niklas Tarvajärvi’s solid performance against Switzerland last night.

Levadiokos are a lower ranking Greek club who usually have a relegation battle of some kind or another. They represent the small town of Levedeia in the Greek Super League, and their budget is pretty meagre, so Lehtinen’s wages represent ‘respectable money’, according to FIF’s friends in Greece. lehtinen has experience of playing abroad before, but having visited both Greece and Lehtinen’s previous location – Peterborough – I can safely say they don’t have much in common.

Levadiokos’s strikers include the veteran Albanian Alban Bushi, 32 year old Eduardo Bustos Montoya, Patrick Dimbala from DR Congo and Greek youngster Stelios Vasiliou. None of them have made it out of single figures in the Greek league before, and it might be difficult to do so at a smaller club, in a new league. In any event, Lehtinen will have to knuckle down and show his worth to more senior players, after being the number one striker at Haka for so long. His pace might be an asset the club will look to utilise.

Haka 4 Cork City 0

FC Haka 4 Cork City 0

Cork City’s European hopes were dashed here in Valkeakoski last night as they fell to a disastrous 4-0 defeat against FC Haka. Manager Alan Mathews was left to rue his decision to switch to a 4-5-1 formation after his side were steamrollered in front of a sell-out crowd at Tehtaan Kenttä.

“We switched from 4-4-2 because it was a big pitch, and we wanted to try and keep it tight in the middle and to give ourselves a foothold in the game,” said Mathews, while Cork fans shouted their scorn for the formation during the post-match interview.

The 30-strong Rebel Army had previously chanted ‘4-4-2’ and ‘on the ground’ as their side failed to get any kind of foothold and resorted to niggly fouls and long balls. At half time Mathews changed the formation in an attempt to come back from a 2-0 deficit, bringing on striker Denis Behan and taking off midfielder Cillian Lordan.

Behan’s aggressive style proved counter-productive when he contested a free kick given against him and was given a yellow card for dissent. The 24 year old had already been booked for a foul 13 minutes earlier, and the Latvian referee had no choice but to send the former Brentford man off.

“If you get sent off for dissent, that’s an unacceptable red card,” said a frustrated Mathews after the game. “If you get sent off for fouling somebody perhaps you can dispute it, but dissent is a cheap red card and that’s very disappointing.”

Cork went behind in the 10th minute when Toni Lehtinen raced clear down the right flank. He crossed for Janne Mahlakaarto, who slotted the ball past Cork goalkeeper Michael Devine. It was a taste of things to come for the Cork defence, who were carved open repeatedly in a torrid first half.

Haka’s Russian midfielder Valeri Popovitch was the star of the show. Having missed the first leg in Cork due to his aviophobia, the 38 year old showed his class with a lovely lob for the second goal after great interplay with Lehtinen.

Cork had a lot of corners but never looked like scoring. Their most dangerous moment came when Haka goalkeeper Sasha Dovbnya dropped the ball 10 yards from goal, but even then Mooney was second to the ball and the danger passed. Their evening was summed up when Gamble raced clear of his marker but overran the ball. His frustration boiled over and he belted the ball at the advertising hoardings, with the rebound almost reaching the halfway line.

Manninen got a third goal after good work from Popovitch and Kangaskorpi, before Valeri Minkenen won a free kick and scored it himself to wrap up a 4-0 win in the 79th minute.

Asked by Finnish journalists what had gone wrong, Mathews denied his side were unprepared for Popovitch. “We knew he was a good player and we had plans to deal with that, but we put in a very poor performance that wasn’t worthy of getting anything from the game,” said Cork manager Alan Mathews.

Haka: Dovbnya, Kangaskorpi, Viljanen (Minkenen 61), Okkonen, Kauppila, Manninen (Nikkilä 85), Parviainen, Lehtinen (Mattila 52), Popovitch, Mahlakaarto, Fowler.

Cork: Devine, Horgan, Murray, Gamble, Lordan (Behan 45), Healy, Darren Murphy, Sullivan, Kearney (Ryan 61), Danny Murphy, Mooney (O’Flynn 81).

Goals: 10′ Mahlakaarto, 15′ Popovitch, 70′ Manninen, 79′ Minkenen

Attendance: 3,211

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.