This Sunday saw the opening round of the 2012 Veikkausliiga season, with all but two of the league’s twelve teams in action. The five matches had their fair share of talking points, but one man, or rather one boy, managed to steal the show.
HJK started the defence of their league championship with a home fixture against IFK Mariehamn, who finished seventh last year. For a match they were expected to win, they started poorly. Mariehamn gave a signal of their intent to play attacking football with the first real chance of the match, a Petteri Forsell free kick after five minutes. Indeed, it was the visitors who took the lead, scoring shortly after the half-time interval through Amos Ekhalie.
The champions were forced to react to going a goal behind, and they brought on two players who played significant parts in their success last season, Erfan Zeneli and Sebastian Sorsa. It was a player in their starting XI who went on to steal the show, however. A cross from Sorsa in the 70th minute was met by the head of Joel Pohjanpalo, who steered the ball into the bottom corner of the IFK net.
It was only one minute before Pohjanpalo put his side in the lead with a second goal, this time with a fine shot on the turn from inside the penalty area. A brace was impressive enough for the 17-year-old, but he wasn’t done yet. Two minutes later he became the scorer of the fastest hat-trick in Finnish league history after working hard to make space for himself on the edge of the area before firing a shot past Simon Nurme, the Mariehamn goalkeeper.
Mariehamn tried to hit back but the tide had turned irreversibly against them. They were beaten almost single-handedly, as HJK had not played well at all as a team. But that will be quickly forgotten, while Pohjanpalo’s remarkable achievement is long remembered. This was only his second league appearance for HJK, though he had been scoring regularly in their pre-season and got a goal in the team’s Liigacup final penalty shoot-out defeat to TPS last week.
The media attention on Pohjanpalo between now and HJK’s next match on Thursday will be huge. I’ve already heard that there were a number of scouts watching him at today’s match. His club will be hoping he could be this season’s Teemu Pukki, scoring plenty of goals and eventually netting them a nice profit. I hope for his sake, though, he sticks with the club beyond this summer. He doesn’t even turn 18 until September.
If you’re wondering about this article’s title, incidentally, it’s because one translation of Pohjanpalo into English is “Fire of the north”. It could equally be “Burning of the bottom”, but the kid deserves a better nickname than that.
Elsewhere, JJK put up a good fight to come back from 2-0 down against KuPS to take a 2-2 draw. Lasse Linjala and Babatunde Wusu, both of whom had come on as substitutes for the team from Jyväkylä, scored in the 86th and 87th minutes to deny KuPs a victory. Ilja Venäläinen and Paul Obiefule had scored for the home side.
The day’s full results are as follows:
TPS 0-1 MyPa
Honka 1-1 VPS
Lahti 1-0 Haka
HJK 3-1 Mariehamn
KuPS 2-2 JJK