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Litmanen looks to lead HJK defence

Published: Friday 29 April 2011, 15.57CET
Following an eventful spring, the Finnish season starts on Monday with champions HJK Helsinki looking to take the crown again after signing up the evergreen Jari Litmanen.
by Mikael Erävuori
from Helsinki
Litmanen looks to lead HJK defence
Capped 137 times, Jari Litmanen is still going strong at 40 years of age ©Getty Images
Published: Friday 29 April 2011, 15.57CET

Litmanen looks to lead HJK defence

Following an eventful spring, the Finnish season starts on Monday with champions HJK Helsinki looking to take the crown again after signing up the evergreen Jari Litmanen.

The arrival of 40-year-old Jari Litmanen has caused quite a stir at HJK Helsinki, with the Finnish champions hoping the former AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona and Liverpool FC forward can lead them to glory once more.

"Of course Jari is the one everyone is talking about, but there are plenty of other good players in the squad, many of them young," explained HJK coach Antti Muurinen. "At HJK it is always the same: we aim to win the title and the Finnish Cup and achieve success in European competitions."

Oddly, the Veikkausliiga title has always eluded Litmanen, who played for HJK for the first time in 1991, leaving Finland a year later after a spell at Myllykosken Pallo-47. Having spent the 2004 season at his home-town club, Litmanen returned to FC Lahti in 2008, and remains a big draw.

HJK have lost last season's 16-goal top scorer Juho Mäkelä to Sydney FC and influential midfielder Medo to FK Partizan, but they remain a strong prospect. Skopje-born striker Berat Sadik is a new recruit along with talented FF Jaro winger Sebastian Mannström and the experienced Rami Hakanpää, back at HJK following a stint at FC Honka.

The spring has had its share of turmoil, with the 14-team league being reduced to 12 after two clubs were unable to meet licensing requirements. That has forced a readjustment to the league system, with the sides now set to play each other three times rather than the customary two.

HJK remain favourites to take the crown, with Honka their most likely challengers, having won the pre-season League Cup competition. "After a few years of making progress, we now really want to fight for the title," explained Honka coach Mika Lehkosuo. "It will not be easy, though."

Having barely avoided relegation in 2010, JJK Jyväskylä will expect better after making some interesting signings, while FC Inter Turku and last season's runners-up KuPS Kuopio also look like they could have it in them to win a place in Europe for next season. Jaro and IFK Mariehamn could also be dark horses.

Last updated: 29/04/11 17.05CET

http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=fin/news/newsid=1625090.html#litmanen+looks+lead+hjk+defence

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