Finnish side FC Haka will start their tenth successive season in European competition tonight away to Cork City FC in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup.
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Finland's FC Haka will start their tenth successive season in European competition as they take on Cork City FC in the UEFA Cup this evening.
The team from the modest town of Valkeakoski have become real UEFA club competition stalwarts over the last decade, playing in every season since 1998/99. They have rarely lasted more than a couple of rounds, however, with their defeat against Liverpool FC in the third round of the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League representing their high point to date.
Former goalkeeper Olli Huttunen, who was capped 60 times for Finland, has been in charge of Haka since 2002, balancing his duties with his position as assistant coach of the national team. He is now well versed in European competition, as indeed are players like Jarkko Okkonen, Juuso Kangaskorpi and Valeri Popovitch.
"We have a lot of players who have played many matches in UEFA competitions, so they know how to play in these kinds of matches," Huttunen said as he looked ahead to Thursday's trip to the Republic of Ireland. "It is good to have those kinds of players in our team, but it is also good to have youngsters like Petri Viljanen, Mikko Manninen and Toni Lehtinen."
Huttunen recognises the importance of the international competitions for the club and the players at Haka. "For club these matches are the chance to get some extra money," he said. "For the players there are always scouts from bigger clubs in attendance." The likes of Tero Penttilä, Janne Salli and Juha Pasoja have all benefited from that, moving on to bigger clubs after good European performances.
With few Finnish clubs able to afford winter training camps overseas, UEFA club competition is generally the only way to get experience of playing foreign clubs. Now Huttunen hopes his seasoned side can get the better of Cork. "It was a tough draw for us," he said. "Cork are at about the same level that we are. Of course we have good chance to go through, but it won't be easy."