Welcome back to Veikkausliiga folks! The league started with a stub round on Wednesday with reigning league champions HJK hosting reigning cup champions Inter, and runner-up RoPS visiting KuPS. Not the first time and probably not the last time either when the league starts with an odd opening round, but I do not like it. Anyways, we’ve seen a lot of transfers this offseason in Finland. It’ll be exciting to see how each club grows – or shrinks – along the season.
SJK v HIFK
It is as if these two teams had a pissing competition in who could make a more miserable offseason. Both sides cup run ended in group stage without a single win.
Alexey Eremenko sr. has built an almost completely new midfield with adding his own son Sergey Eremenko and hot-headed Moshtagh Yaghoubi – who was fired from HJK – alongside team captain Mehmet Hetemaj. What sounds as a skilled trio might actually just be too much of personalities.
It has not at least shown so far as a fruitful combination. Overall, the squad is very poorly balanced, which has been painfully visible this offseason. Young gun Jeremiah Streng has been one of the few, if not only, positive sign from the tragic cup run.
HIFK came back to Veikkausliiga after spending only one year in Ykkönen. However, even before the league has started it looks like their stint back in the top tier will be just as short. The reds economy is horrible, and the squad lacks obvious quality all over the field.
Njazi Kuqi has proven his quality several times, however he has also proven his poor temperament too many times. I dare to doubt this being the right environment for him. Central defense is the only field position in HIFK that I would feel comfortable with, as Tero Mäntylä and Hannu Patronen form at least a respectable central lock. Even HIFK deserves my benefit of doubt, although they will have to impress me rather soon than late for their own sake.
Although HIFK’s winter sounds even more horrifying than their hosts’, I simply cannot put my trust in SJK. Opening rounds have their chance of surprise for newcomers, and SJK have been antonymous to reliable for a good while. What I do see is two sides in a negative trend that have a hard time creating scoring opportunities. A bounce here or there might seal the game.
Asian Total Goals Betting Recommendation: Under 2.50 goals at 2.250
KPV v Ilves
Last weekend both teams qualified to cup semifinals, where they will face each other again in May. Let’s take a look how each side made their way through the quarterfinals.
Newcomers KPV were underdogs as they faced RoPS at Keskuskenttä in Rovaniemi, albeit a very respectable squad for a promoted side. However, KPV did take an early lead thanks to former RoPS striker Simo Roiha’s skills in his assist to Joni Mäkelä’s opening goal. RoPS Agnaldo had only minutes earlier hit the crossbar from KPV goalkeeper Teppo Marttinen’s horrible passing error.
Later on, RoPS would get even closer to score from a corner kick but KPV defense could clear the ball from the goal line. RoPS got finally their equalizer in the second half, as another corner kick stunned the opposition defense. The hosts would hit the crossbar once more in the match that was sealed by Sebastian Mannström, who scored the game winning 1-2 goal from a way too good position.
Ilves, on the other hand, were possibly even luckier to advance from the quarterfinal against Honka. The visitors from Tampere had two fairly good scoring chances during the first 20 minutes of the game, but it was all Honka after that. When Gideon Baah scored 1-0 with 5 minutes left of the game, it looked all set and done. However, a great volley from Emile Paul Tendeng sent the match to overtime.
Some solid saves by Mika Hilander in a rather poor penalty shootout sent Ilves to the semifinal. Although the equalizer might have been lucky, it must be said that Ilves kept their hosts rather well from proper scoring chances. What was surprising, however, was how wide spread Ilves was in defense.
Ilves struggled somewhat with Honka’s counterattacks, which is a rare phenomenon considering Wiss’ Ilves. KPV could get their chances in counterattacks, but I would be surprised if Wiss had not addressed the issue until Sunday.
The hosts play in exile in Seinäjoki the first month or so, and still seem to lack league routine as a group, although some individuals have played hundreds of league games. Ironically, Wiss’ rather young squad has a routine that I think will give them an opening win.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Ilves -0.50 at 1.950
VPS v FC Inter
Besides Ilves and KPV, also VPS made their way through to the cup semis. Of all the four semifinalists, VPS made the most impressive quarterfinal as Inter’s guests. In other words, this well be a quick rematch, although on VPS home turf. Let’s take a look at what we are to expect.
For years recognized as one of the few economically smart and stable clubs, VPS have joined the society of immortals and faced economic instability once again. This explains why left winger Juha Hakola was so easily lured to his hometown of Espoo, and why right winger/false nine/whatever Joonas Vahtera was sold to HJK, without ever signing any as recognized names to replace their gaps.
Nonetheless, VPS have seen some much welcome changes, as Estonian international Marko Meerits left the country, and VPS found German-Polish Martin Kompalla, who has been very promising so far, to actually make some game-winning saves. Own products Momodou Sarr, Samu Alanko, and Fabrice Gatambiye have earned Vuorinen’s trust this offseason with mature performances even against league sides.
Sarr did not make huge stats against Inter in the cup semi, however, the opposition defense’s irritation grew visibly, as the youngling made small tricks and treats on the left flank, where Niko Markkula was in more trouble than against HJK in the league opener.
In contrast, left fullback Luciano Balbi, whom Inter signed from Spanish LaLiga2, had an easy shift against VPS Alanko but was demolished by Nikolai Alho and Riku Riski. One common factor in these two 1-2 losses for Inter was midfielder Alvaro Muñiz’s lethal passing. I mean seriously, what a guy. Physical abilities on par of Pirlo and likes, but so are his passing skills. His brilliant assist to Valencic gave Inter the opening goal against VPS and Ojala’s 1-1 equalizer at HJK was likewise aided by the Spaniard.
Inter may be a bubbler in some season previews, which I do understand considering the likes of Muñiz and Valencic, and a respected coach in José Riveiro. However, there is still plenty of room to improve in order to impress at least me, and with these odds and a strong offseason by VPS, I think the home side have great value.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: VPS +0.25 at 1.790
Preview by: @konformisten.