Big names, and they are all here, spread across the icy reaches of top flight Scandinavian football. Sort of. Let IBWM's Charlie Anderson tell you more.
If football were the Internet, then Spain would be a sleek broadband connection while England would be Internet Explorer. Finland would be dial-up – clunky, fatally flawed and widely disregarded due to its being stuck irretrievably in the 1990s. To watch the Finnish national team play is to be taken back to the laboured whirring, crackling and occasional small explosions that accompanied going online back in the days when people still referred to it cautiously as ‘surfing the net’.
If Finnish football itself were the Internet (just to drag this daft and inconsistent analogy reluctantly into another paragraph) then HJK would surely be Google. The Helsinki side, who with all the wit and invention of a YouTube user’s comment are nicknamed Klubi (the club), won the Veikkausliiga for a healthy twenty-second time last season. For purposes of comparison, HPS and FC Haka are the second-most successful with nine titles each. HJK have also lifted the Cup on ten occasions, four of which have come in the last decade. They are, in short, a team whose success is as regular as spam emails promising phallic enlargement, and every bit as subtle. Add to that the six-point lead they hold with three league games remaining and you could perhaps forgive Klubi for feeling lucky going into the Cup final against TPS Turku on Saturday.
But knockout competitions are rarely predictable, and this was no exception. Two goals, one cup for TPS – Mika Ääritalo and Riku Riski helped the underdogs, managed by the exquisitely-ponytailed Marko Rajamäki, to a 2-0 win. Finland coach Stuart Baxter was at the game ahead of the qualifier against Hungary and, although Otto Fredrikson is the established first-choice, an impressive performance in goal from Jukka Lehtovaara could see him adding to his solitary cap before too long. The 2010 triumph is TPS’ third Cup win and their first trophy since 1994. For one of the best-supported clubs in the country, it was an unexpected but pleasant end to an awful long wait.
Norway scoffs. “Call that an upset?” it roars derisively while sharpening its battleaxe and quaffing mead from a human skull. And it speaks the truth, this crude personification of a northern European nation-state, because the Norwegian Cup produced the mother of all surprises this weekend. It helps, of course, that Norway has a very clearly-defined footballing hegemon, and that pretty much everyone is rather keen to see it humbled.
Where so many have failed to bring Rosenborg briefly to their knees, little Follo succeeded. Wearing a fetching shade of light pink, the team just promoted to the Adeccoligaen (second tier) beat the lumbering Trondheim behemoth 3-2 in the semi-finals. Should Follo go on to be relegated (as likely as Hugh Grant’s next movie being a romantic comedy) and also win the final against Strømsgodset (as likely as Hugh Grant’s next movie not being vomit-inducing), they would enter the qualifying rounds of the Europa League while playing in the third tier. Which, like cup upsets themselves, would be faintly ridiculous but tremendous fun.
With ten games gone in the Danish Superliga, perhaps it’s time to take a look at the table and make some assumptions about where teams are likely to finish. Or, on the evidence of Sunday’s game between giants Brøndby and struggling Silkeborg, perhaps not – the ten-time champions were comprehensively outplayed in their own back yard. Estonian striker Kaimar Saag put in surely the performance of the week, latching onto a deliciously measured pass from Christian Holst to put Silkeborg ahead, before returning the favour for Holst – angling an excellent ball across the area for the Faroe Islander to finish.
It was an immensely fulfilling game. Silkeborg played some neat football and gave a masterful demonstration of tactical solidity and intelligent movement, the Danish game at its best. The result lifts them off the bottom of the table after a recent turnaround in form – a draw at Copenhagen was followed by an impressive victory over Odense (who admittedly are without a manager, and had Roy Carroll and Eric Djemba-Djemba in their side). Brøndby stay third but fall further off the pace – Copenhagen beat second-placed Midtjylland 3-0 to move seven points clear at the top. Unless they appoint Kevin Keegan or suffer an unlikely series of injuries, they can probably start making room in the trophy cabinet already.
But the result isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that, ten minutes from the end with Brøndby 2-0 down, viewers were treated to the always-enjoyable sight of a big team’s fans flouncing out of the stadium with their sense of entitlement between their legs and a look of incredulous indignation frozen on their faces. When you get right down to it, isn’t bitter, graceless Schadenfreude what football’s all about?
Charlie writes regularly for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him (and who wouldn’t?) please make your way to The Carvalho Peninsula.