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Season review: Finland

Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012, 9.23CET
It was business as usual as HJK Helsinki lifted an unprecedented fourth straight title but a couple of new names also emerged: cup winners FC Honka and wonder boy Joel Pohjanpalo.
by Mikael Erävuori
from Helsinki
Season review: Finland
HJK boss Antti Muurinen ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012, 9.23CET

Season review: Finland

It was business as usual as HJK Helsinki lifted an unprecedented fourth straight title but a couple of new names also emerged: cup winners FC Honka and wonder boy Joel Pohjanpalo.

It was business as usual in the Finnish First Division as HJK Helsinki claimed an unprecedented fourth successive title, but a new name came to the table in the Finnish Cup as FC Honka captured their first major trophy.

Champions: HJK Helsinki
HJK pretty much sailed to their previous three championships but, having lost several key players last winter, they navigated choppier waters this term. Coach Antti Muurinen underwent a difficult rebuilding period before, suddenly, it all clicked into place. "It took a while to shape the team and new players were arriving even as the season got under way. Towards the end we played some great football, though," said HJK captain Ville Wallén, whose side ended the campaign 11 league games unbeaten.

Cup final: FC Honka Espoo 1-0 KuPS Kuopio
Honka and KuPS disappointed in the First Division but salvation came in the knockout competition. Espoo outfit Honka had to dig deep to see off HJK on penalties in the last four yet a repeat never looked likely in the final when, already leading through Antti Mäkijärvi's strike, they found themselves up against ten men before half-time. Sander Puri followed Etchu Tabe down the tunnel before the end, though that did not diminish the celebrations for Honka coach Mika Lehkosuo: "I think we were by far the better team and fully deserved to win, even if the score was only 1-0."

European places*
HJK Helsinki – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
FC Honka Espoo – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
FC Inter Turku – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
TPS Turku – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round

* subject to confirmation by UEFA

Player of the year: Irakli Sirbiladze (FC Inter Turku)
The Georgia striker was voted players' player of the year and few could argue. Sirbiladze replaced Fortuna Düsseldorf 1895-bound Timo Furuholm at Inter Turku and proved a worthy replacement. A tally of 17 top-flight goals is evidence in itself, but the powerful attacker also set up his share and was a true leader of the Inter line.

One to watch: Joel Pohjanpalo (HJK Helsinki)
Just 17 and with a solitary league appearance as a substitute under his belt, Pohjanpalo announced himself on the opening day of the season with a three-minute hat-trick against IFK Mariehamn; he went on to score 11 times for the champions-elect. Already called up to the senior Finland squad, the young player of the year has attracted considerable overseas interest. "I will not rush things," said Pohjanpalo, now 18. "If an interesting offer comes from abroad, I will consider it. But continuing in Finland is also a good option."

Surprise package: Myllykosken Pallo-47
MYPA were many pundits' favourites for the drop before the campaign began. Toni Korkeakunnas's inexperienced squad was full of relative unknowns, but a strong start to the season made everyone pay closer attention. They were solid throughout, especially at the back where a total of 33 conceded in the league was bettered only by HJK and TPS Turku, and they ended in a creditable sixth place.

Leading scorer: Irakli Sirbiladze, FC Inter Turku (17 goals)

Number: 2
For just the second time in Finnish First Division history (since 1990), two clubs from the same city finished in the top three in the shape of Inter Turku and TPS Turku. The only previous time was 1997, when HJK headed the table and Helsinki rivals Finnairin Palloilijat came in third.

Relegated: Valkeakosken Haka

Promoted: RoPS Rovaniemi

Quote
"Even if Haka have been relegated, I have been surprised by what I have seen during my eight weeks here. I firmly believe Haka will bounce back stronger than ever."
Coach Juha Malinen, who replaced Sami Ristilä on a short-term contract at nine-time champions Haka with ten games remaining.

Last updated: 14/11/12 9.41CET

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