FINLAND: An introduction to Veikkausliiga 2013

Finland

Article courtesy of Escape To Suomi

With the 2013 Finnish Veikkausliiga (Premier League) season starting in April, it’s a good chance to introduce the league, clubs and players to those with a passing interest, and to hopefully attract some new fans…

Respect is the theme of the 2013 season

The league was formed in 1990 as a professional league, replacing the Mestaruussarja, and is sponsored by the national betting organisation Veikkaus. It’s a summer league, running from April to October, like most Northern European leagues, and continues to run throughout international tournaments. It’s currently ranked 30th out of 53 in UEFA’s national co-efficient (this is likely to drop further due to improved performance by teams from Slovenia and Azerbaijan).

The league winner enters the following year’s Champions League in qualifying round two. 2012 champions HJK will play their first qualifier in July 2013. Europa League places also go to the teams finishing second and third (FC Inter Turku and TPS Suomen Cup (Honka go to qualifying round two). As things currently stand, Finland are also due to receive an extra Europa League place through the UEFA Fair Play rankings, and if this is confirmed, the place will go to IFK Mariehamn who finished fourth in 2012.

The league itself is made up of twelve clubs, who play every other team three times. One match is at home, one away, the other randomly drawn. The teams who finished in the top six the previous year will play 17 home games, while the teams in the bottom half play 16 home matches. Until 2010, there were fourteen clubs in the division, playing each other team twice.

The Veikkausliiga trophy

At the end of the season, the club finishing bottom is relegated to the Ykkönen (division one), and is replaced by that division’s winner. Haka were relegated in 2012, and replaced by RoPS.

In the UK, the only legal way to watch the Veikkausliiga is through Bet365.

Since 1990, HJK (Helsinki Jalkopalloklubi) have been the most successful side, winning the Veikkausliiga nine times, including the last four championships. They’re also the only Finnish side to have made it into the group stage of the Champions League, in 1998/99. FC Kuusysi made it into the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1985/86, losing to eventual winners Steaua Bucharest.

The Veikkausliiga is also in charge of the league cup (Liigacup), which in Finland is only open to top division teams. The cup is used mainly as pre-season exercise for the clubs against similar opposition. The twelve clubs are drawn into three groups of four, playing home and away. The top two in each group, plus the two best third-placed teams, go into straight knock-out quarter-finals. This year’s final will be played on Saturday 6th April between FC Lahti and JJK.

 The twelve clubs in the 2013 Veikkausliiga are:

HJK

Current champions, and under new management. Former player Sixten  Boström has taken the reins, with the main brief to improve the club’s performance in Europe. New signings for 2013 include former English Premier League players Mikael Forssell and Teemu Tainio. Certainly favourites to retain the title, but last year only won by six points. They’ll need their new old boys to slot straight in.

FC Inter Turku

Second placed in 2012, and champions in 2008. Formed in 1990 by a local businessman, and named after Internazionale (they also play in blue and black striped shirts). Last year’s league top scorer Irakli Sirbiladze remains in the squad, but their pre-season form has been poor. They’ve lost Mika Ojala and Joni Kauko, but new signings include JJK’s Tamas Gruborovics and former Honka defender Tuomo Turunen.

TPS

Turun Palloseura are also based in Turku, and finished third in 2012. They’ve signed midfielders Duarte Tammilehto (Honka) and Wayne Brown (Bristol Rovers) for this year, and have looked good in the Liigacup. A solid core of young Finnish players throughout the squad, and with a history of producing quality players (including Finland captain Niklas Moisander).

IFK Mariehamn

Based in the Åland Islands capital, the club have only been professional since 2009. Losing all six group matches in the Liigacup was a poor start, but they’ve brought back Petteri Forsell on loan, and have made several new signings. The new guys will need to bed in quickly to keep their top half position. Europa League football could prove a distraction.

FC Lahti

Former in the merger of Reipas and Kuusysi, Lahti returned to the Veikkausliiga in 2012 and ended in fine style. They’ve since added two solid defenders in Pyry Kärkkäinen and Markus Joenmäki, and the biggest coup of the winter by signing Inter’s Joni Kauko. They also have a decent core of youngsters, and have added Brazilian forward Vini Dantas. My tip for top three this season.

MYPA

Sixth in 2012 – par form. Since winning the title in 2005, they’ve only come between 5th and 9th since. They’ve retained striker Pekka Sihvola (despite him having several trials all over Europe), and have signed HJK youngster Emerik Grönroos on loan for the season. They may not yet benefit from selling the naming rights to their stadium, but a solid mid-table side.

Honka

Winners of the Finnish Cup in 2012, Honka will be going into 2013 in a degree of turmoil. Losing their captain Tapio Heikkilä to HJK and Tammilehto due to contract disputes over unpaid wages, and they were in danger of losing their league place. They have signed former Marseille and Bolton defender Abdoulaye Méïté, and have retained promising young striker Tim Väyrynen – well worth following their exploits.

VPS

Vaasan Palloseura returned to the top flight in 2006, but haven’t finished a season higher than 8th, and 2012 also saw them come 8th. Jamaican forward Steven Morrissey scored fifteen goals last season, but has moved to Denmark, and the club have struggled to find a replacement. Defender Jesper Engström is also suffering from serious illness, and the club will struggle in 2013.

JJK

JJK of Jyväskylä suffered a hangover in 2012, following their 2011 bronze medal with ninth place and the worst defence in the league. A maiden European campaign ended with defeat to Montenegro side Zeta, and they sorely missed forward Babatunde Wusu. Tunde has returned, and young Eero Markkanen looks a good prospect. Should do better, but the top half may be beyond their reach. Liigacup finalists.

KuPS

Kuopio’s finest celebrated their 90th birthday recently, but will need clear heads. The 2010 runners-up seemed a long way off their best last season, where progress to the third qualifying round in the Europa League seemed to take over (before losing to Bursaspor). This year they have no such diversion, and have brought in HJK’s former goal king Dawda Bah. Scored plenty of goals in pre-season.

FF Jaro

Escaping relegation on the final day with a surprise victory at TPS, Jaro again look like they will struggle to keep afloat in 2013. On-loan forward Sherif Ashraf has left, while Trinidadian Shahdon Winchester has come in and already looked dangerous. Young midfielder Simon Skrabb is also a potential match-winner, but is still only 18.

RoPS

The 2012 Ykkönen champions, and won at a canter. Better known for match-fixing allegations and YouTube clips about cold weather, they’re very much a yo-yo club, but they’ve invested well. Saxman, Otaru and Okkonen have come in, and prolific Boris Kokko remains, despite interest in Poland. May find adjustment hard, but they won their Liigacup group.

So those are the runners and riders. We’ll be running reviews of every round of fixtures, with highlights and photos. The latest news will be published on Twitter, while we’re also on Facebook. I’ll be visiting Finland in June, hopefully returning with some good tales and new friends.

—————

RichNelson

Click name above to follow Rich on Twitter and have a read of Rich’s Finnish football website at www.escapetosuomi.com

Advertisements

Comment below

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s