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Season review: Finland

Published: Monday 8 November 2010, 10.09CET
HJK Helsinki claimed their 23rd Finnish title in early October despite the departure of perhaps their star midfielder in August, but lost the cup final and the race for runners-up spot proved tight.
by Mikael Erävuori
from Helsinki
Season review: Finland
HJK had the title sewn up by the start of October ©Jussi Eskola
Published: Monday 8 November 2010, 10.09CET

Season review: Finland

HJK Helsinki claimed their 23rd Finnish title in early October despite the departure of perhaps their star midfielder in August, but lost the cup final and the race for runners-up spot proved tight.

A second successive title in Finland brought HJK Helsinki's total up to 23 national championships, but while they were already secure in top spot by early October, the 2010 Veikkausliiga season was a tight one, with many issues not decided until the final round.

Champions: HJK Helsinki
HJK lived up to their pre-season billing from the off, with Antti Muurinen's side kicking off the season with a 5-0 win at KuPS Kuopio, the side that would eventually finish as runners-up. They held top spot from early June, and were confirmed as champions on 4 October without kicking a ball as FC Honka Espoo lost 2-1 at home against FC Lahti. "The best team won without doubt," said Muurinen's assistant Juho Rantala. "We played the best football in this league. This team are worthy champions."

Cup final: TPS Turku 2-0 HJK Helsinki
HJK's hopes of a domestic double were dashed on 25 September as TPS claimed their first Finnish Cup since 1994. Mika Ääritalo opened the scoring with Riku Riski putting a seal on the result in added time. "It feels great," said midfielder Riski. "We fought hard, scored two great goals and deserved to win."

European places*
HJK Helsinki – UEFA Champions League qualifying
TPS Turku – UEFA Europa League qualifying
KuPS Kuopio – UEFA Europa League qualifying
FC Honka – UEFA Europa League qualifying

*Exact rounds and entry subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Surprise package: KuPS Kuopio
Following a 12th-placed finish in 2009, little was expected from KuPS – especially after they lost 5-0 at home to HJK in their opening game of the season – but coach Esa Pekonen quickly turned things around. Playing a controlled and effective game, their mix of young bucks and seasoned campaigners was spiced up by foreign talents, notably Cameroonian defender Patrice Ollo and Nigerian forwards MacPherlin Dudu and Dickson Nwakaeme, and secured them runners-up spot for the first time since 1979 and a end to a 21-year wait for European football.

Player of the year: Medo (HJK Helsinki)
HJK held on to top spot, but had lost their star midfielder to FK Partizan by the end of August. The 22-year-old nonetheless remains a strong contender for the Veikkausliiga's official player of the year. The Sierra Leonian played a major role in HJK's 2009 title success, but was even better in 2010; aggressive in defence and creative in attack. Partizan liked what they saw of him when they defeated HJK in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, and he has played in three of the Serbian side's group games.

One to watch: Toni Kolehmainen (TPS Turku)
The talented midfielder returned home in 2009 following a fruitless spell in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, and while he suffered with injuries at the start of his first season in the Finnish top division, the 22-year-old soon found his feet – along with TPS. Marshaling his side's midfield, he was effective in defence and attack and will be expected to play an even bigger role in future.

Leading scorer: Juho Mäkelä (HJK Helsinki) 16
Eight goals in his first four league games signalled pacy striker Makëla's intentions. He ended the season as top scorer for the first time since 2005, when his 15 goals for HJK prompted a move to Heart of Midlothian FC in Scotland.

Relegated: FC Lahti

Promoted: RoPS Rovaniemi

Number: 26
The number of the rounds played in Veikkausliiga season and the number of points picked up by Lahti; the highest total for a side relegated from the league in the 14-team era.

Quote: "We were under a lot of pressure, but it will make us tougher for next season, and then we will compete for a top-three finish."
JJK Jyväskylä coach Kari Martonen feeling upbeat after his team overcame FC Viikingit in a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off to preserve their top-division place.

Last updated: 06/12/12 12.01CET

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