The four Finnish sides to have qualified for European football learnt who they will be playing in the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers today, following the draw by UEFA in Nyon, Switzerland.
Helsingin Jalkopalloklubi, better known as HJK, qualified for the Champions League after winning the Veikkausliiga last year. They have been drawn against Bangor City, winners of the Welsh Premier League, in the second qualifying round. Their two-legged match will take place between the 12th and 20th of July. HJK are the seeded team, so are notionally the favourites to go through to the third qualifying round, where teams including Rangers FC of Scotland and FC København of Denmark await them.
Finland has three Europa League entrants. Turun Palloseura, TPS, qualified by winning the Finnish Cup, beating HJK 2-0 in the final last September. They face KVC Westerlo, who won the Europa League playoff of the Belgian Pro League, in the second qualifying round. Kuopion Palloseura, KuPS, were last season’s Veikkausliiga runners-up and are also in the second qualifying round. They have been drawn against Gaz Metan Mediaş, seventh-placed finishers in the Romanian Liga I, who were awarded their European spot after one of the teams above them were denied a competition license for financial reasons. Pallohonka, more commonly just Honka, qualified after finishing fourth in the Veikkausliiga because TPS above them had already qualified through the Finnish cup. Their opponents in the first qualifying round, Nõmme Kalju of Estonia, finished fourth in the 2010 Meistriliiga. Kalju have a number of Estonian internationals on their books, but a home stadium that only fits 500 spectators. The first qualifying round matches will take place on the 30th of June and 7th of July, while the second qualifying round matches will take place on the 14th and 21st of July.
Haka against HJK used to be something of a Finnish classic; the joint-second-most successful league team against the first. Haka are having a poor season, however, and that was compounded by the 0-5 defeat they suffered at home to HJK in Saturday’s only match. Finland striker Berat Sadik scored one goal, and former under-21 striker Akseli Pelvas got two.
MyPa were the other team to score five goals away from home this weekend, as they beat Jaro 1-5 on Sunday evening. Canadian striker Riley O’Neill scored a late hat-trick, with all three goals coming after the 87th minute.
Mariehamn overcame Honka 1-0, and the two other matches to be played on Sunday both finished 1-1, VPS drawing at RoPS and TPS drawing at KuPS. Finland’s Mika Ääritalo was on the scoresheet for TPS once again; he now has six goals in ten matches this season.
The league’s surprise package JJK travel from Jyväskylä to Turku this evening to take on Inter, the early season leaders who have now slipped back into third place. It should be an exciting match as both teams need three points to keep up with HJK, who currently have a four-point cushion having played one game more.