A look back at what’s been making the headlines in Finnish football over the course of the past week or so.
Two Finns left standing in Europa League
The number of Finns involved in the Europa League this season has fallen to two. Former Finland captain Petri Pasanen and his Red Bull Salzburg side were knocked out of the competition after an 8-1 aggregate thrashing by Metalist Kharkiv of Ukraine. Pasanen must shoulder some of the blame for being part of the most porous defence in the first round of the knock-out stage.
Elsewhere, Rubin Kazan were knocked out by Olympiakos with a 2-0 aggregate scoreline, but they would not have been fielding either of their Finns in the competition anyway: Roman Eremenko is cup-tied and his brother Alexei was removed from the club’s “A List” tournament squad after picking up an injury in Finland’s 2-1 defeat to Denmark in November of last year.
Another Finnish international ineligible to play in the Europa League for the rest of this season is Teemu Pukki, who watched on as his club Schalke overcame Viktoria Plzeň in extra time, 4-2 on aggregate, thanks to a hat-trick from his fellow striker Klaus-Jan Huntelaar.
That leaves AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands as the only team left in the competition with Finnish players in their squad. Niklas Moisander captained them, as always, on Thursday night as they edged past Anderlecht with a 0-2 aggregate scoreline. The AZ defence took a battering in the opening fifteen minutes, as Moisander admitted, but saves by their goalkeeper Esteban and “a bit of luck” kept their clean sheet intact before Maarten Martens sealed the tie for them with an away goal in the 54th minute. AZ signed another Finnish player, goalkeeper Niki Mäenpää, in October, and has been added to their Europa League squad (PDF). He has a reserve goalkeeper’s role at the club, however, and didn’t feature on Thursday.
This blog is happy to support the pair of remaining Finns in the Europa League: come on AZ!
This post was made as a contribution to the Europa Legion, a network of Europa League bloggers on Twitter.
Jenkinson-less Arsenal blown away by Milan
There is still one Finnish player involved in the Champions League, too, but I doubt that will be the case for much longer. Arsenal suffered a heavy defeat at Milan last Wednesday, the 4-0 scoreline once again highlighting their lack of a cutting edge: Arsenal had 53% of the possession and the same number of shots on target as their opponents but couldn’t force an away goal, which would have given them hope for the return leg. Carl Jenkinson didn’t play in the match, as he was still recovering from the back injury that has kept him out of action since November the 5th. Jenkinson has since played 45 minutes for Arsenal’s reserve side, in a 0-5 victory over Norwich, and could play some part when Milan visit London on March the 6th. It seems highly unlikely, however, that he or Arsenal will be playing any further part in the competition after that.
Liigacup group stage passes half-way mark
More results from Finland’s league cup to bring you since the last post on this blog:
Group 1: Inter 5-0 Mariehamn, Inter 2-0 Haka
Group 2: Honka 4-1 Lahti, Honka 4-0 HJK, MyPa 2-1 Honka, Lahti 1-2 HJK
Group 3: Jaro 3-2 JJK, VPS 1-0 Jaro, KuPS 1-3 JJK
Honka became the first team to qualify for the knock-out part of the tournament, having amassed 12 points from five matches in group 2. HJK can join them with a win over MyPa on the 3rd of March; depending on MyPa’s other results, a draw or even a defeat might suffice. Most of the other teams in the competition have played only three matches out of six, so it’s too early to say who is going to qualify from groups 1 and 3.
Tickets for the Liigacup final, to be played on the 4th of March at the Sonera Stadium in Helsinki, are now on sale starting at 5€ (3€ for concessions).
Ojala replaces Väyrynen in Finland squad
Mika Väyrynen has been forced to withdraw from Finland’s squad of players to face Austria in a friendly next Wednesday. The Leeds United midfielder is recovering from a groin injury. Although he has been able to train with his club, it was decided by Mixu Paatelainen and his coaching staff that they didn’t want to take any risks with him, so he has been sent back to England. Mika Ojala (two international caps, no goals), the FC Inter winger, has been called up as his replacement. Ojala has been in fine form lately, scoring and creating plenty of goals last season for his club alongside Timo Furuholm as well as leading the Finland IX’s goal chart in the recently-finished Komia tournament. He was also on the scoresheet in the Liigacup yesterday as Inter beat Haka 2-0, so he deserves his chance. Of course, being in the squad is no guarantee that he will receive any time on the pitch in Klagenfurt.
Former international Aki Riihilahti retires
Aki Riihilahti, one of Finland’s better-known players internationally, announced on Tuesday that he is calling an end to his career. Riihilahti accumulated 69 caps for Finland, the first coming in February 1998 against Cyprus and the last in October 2007 against Spain. He managed to get on the scoresheet eleven times in that time, a respectable figure for a primarily defensive midfielder. He is also in a small group of Finland players who have won more international matches than they have lost (29 against 22). His club career both started and finished with Finland’s HJK – he made 102 appearances for them over two spells – and took him to Honka, Vålerenga of Norway, Crystal Palace of England, Kaiserslautern of Germany and Djurgårdens of Sweden before he returned home. He is probably best-remembered for his time at Crystal Palace, where he made 157 appearances over five years. That encompassed one season in the Premier League, where he was one of Palace’s best players and a fan favourite, but succumbed to injury before the end of the season as the team were relegated.
Personally speaking, I saw Riihilahti play for HJK a couple of times last season and I was impressed at how well he was performing at his age – he is now 35. His passing started many of the team’s moves going forward, and his strong presence acted as a useful shield for the defence. HJK, who have already lost Alexander Ring and Cheyne Fowler from their midfield, might struggle to replace him for the season ahead and may have benefited from another season of “Ägä”, as he is nicknamed.