With the national team returning from the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, the Finnish season will return to normal in the coming days, with European competition on many clubs' minds.
With many of the league's top players on duty in Sweden, there has been a significant disruption to the domestic calendar, with most clubs having a mid-season holiday. "The early season was very busy and a little pause was more than welcome," admitted Job Dragtsma, coach of champions FC International Turku. "We have now had time to train properly and I hope it will show on the pitch."
Inter are a point adrift of surprise joint league leaders FC Haka and IFK Mariehamn, but with just eight points separating the top eleven in the 14-team league, the coach is feeling optimistic. "We got the squad together at a very late stage and, bearing that in mind, I am pleased with how we have played and where we are in the table," added Inter's Dutch coach.
Inter were drawn against Moldovan champions FC Sheriff in yesterday's UEFA Champions League second qualifying round draw, with ties to be played on 14/15 and 21/22 July. "Normally teams from those regions are skilful and they want to play good, intricate football," said Dragtsma. "I think that will suit us fine. I have to admit I do not know much about Sheriff at the moment."
FC Lahti will be the first Finnish club in action, kicking off their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round tie against KS Dinamo Tirana on 2 July. "We have two important league games ahead of us and will be concentrating on them before turning to Europe," insisted coach Ilkka Mäkelä. "Of course, in the background the preparations for Europa League games is already going on."
In the next round of the same competition, HJK Helsinki meet the winner of the tie between Lithuania's FK Vėtra and Luxembourg's CS Grevenmacher, while FC Honka Espoo take on Bangor City FC. "It is nice to get a Welsh opponent so we can enjoy a little bit of the vast British football tradition," said managing director Jouko Pakarinen. "I am pleased with the draw. The trip to Wales is not the most difficult one and playing the first leg at home suits us fine."
At the foot of the table, things have not been easy with three clubs changing coach. Petri Vuorinen and Juha Reini have taken joint command at VPS Vaasa following Tomi Kärkkäinen's resignation, while Rovaniemi PS assistant coach Mika Lumijärvi has stepped up following Valeri Bondarenko's dismissal. KuPS Kuopio are just below RoPS at the foot of the table, with Esa Pekonen in charge after the sacking of Kai Nyyssönen.
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