My first ever Finnish league match was a thoroughly one-sided encounter, with home side HJK sending RoPS on the long journey back to Rovaniemi with a thrashing and nothing more than a consolation goal to cheer them up.
HJK were missing a couple of key players, particularly in central midfield where both Finland Jari Litmanen and Finland prospect Alexander Ring were out with injury. RoPS, on the other hand, were missing just about all their players; they only managed to pick 15 players out of a permitted 18 (11 starters + 7 substitutes). The recent match-fixing scandal cost them the core of their team, which was primarily formed of Zambian players, and they seem to be struggling to return to a full complement of players.
A respectable start to the Veikkausliiga campaign for the Lapland team, with two wins and a draw in their first five matches, is in danger of being forgotten as they have now gone five matches without a win. Right from the kick-off in this match, they were set up to defend and counter-attack. For the first half of the match, it seemed like it might pay off – although they didn’t score, neither did HJK, who missed a couple of chances but mainly struggled in midfield. Dawda Bah was guilty of giving the ball away carelessly on a number of occasions.
Just four minutes into the second half, HJK scored, and then they just kept scoring. I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow account of all the goals and other incidents like I would for the national team – that information is available at Soccerway – but I will say that Bah more than made up for his first half sloppiness with an absolute peach of a goal to put his side two goals ahead. It was a slow, high, looping shot from the corner of the area that curled past RoPS goalkeeper Alex Nyom and into the corner of the net. He also made the pass that set up HJK’s next goal, scored by Teemu Pukki, playing with his elbow in a support after injuring it against Honka on the 9th of June.
Pukki now has four goals in seven matches (six starts), moving him into the top ten goalscorers in the division. That’s interesting to me because he is a young Finnish player who could be Mikael Forssell’s replacment in the national team one day. Another Finnish striker, Berat Sadik, was my man of the match. He scored soon after coming on as a substitute to put the result beyond any doubt and was fouled in the area later to win a penalty, converted by Rafinha.
RoPS did not give a good account of themselves. They had only a few shots in the entire match, and when they had a good opportunity they usually squandered it. For example, a free kick from the right-hand side of the penalty area was floated out of play when a good cross was required. They resorted to desperation tactics much earlier than necessary, taking a shot directly from the second-half restart with the game still goalless. They did manage to pick up a consolation goal for their troubles, denying Saku Sahlgren a clean sheet on his HJK debut.
HJK now have five straight wins and they move top of the league with this result, at least until Inter take on TPS in tomorrow night’s Turku derby. Today’s other match finished Haka 1-0 KuPS.
Ticket cost: 7.50€ at the gate for a half-way line seat.
Travel cost: nothing more than I already pay for my monthly Helsinki travelcard.
Travel time: half an hour from my front door to the gate.
The stadium: big, pretty empty, wet and windy even under the roof.
The atmosphere: both sets of fans made a good amount of noise.
The food: I wanted something hot; disappointingly there was nothing vegetarian.
Final thoughts: not a close enough match to be particularly exciting, but a couple of good goals so I won’t complain. HJK stepped up a gear in the second half and were just too strong for RoPS.