THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Concern about performances in country

icon sadfan26 July ~ Fifteen years ago HJK from Helsinki became the first – and only – Finnish club to qualify for the Champions League group stages. That seemed far away this week as the 25-time champions were knocked out of Europe by a team from Estonia. July has been dismal for Finnish clubs. IFK Mariehamn went out against Azerbaijan's Inter Baku in the Europa League qualification stages, Turku-based clubs TPS and FC Inter were beaten by Luxembourg's Jeunesse Esch and Vikingur from the Faroe Islands respectively, while Honka lost to Lech Poznan of Poland.

Any hopes of European progress were then left in in the hands of HJK. A cautious 0-0 draw at home in the first leg of the second qualifying round for the Champions League against Nomme Kalju was followed by a 2-1 defeat in the return leg across the Gulf of Finland. The unusually early exit meant HJK also missed out on a chance to qualify for this season's Europa League, which is set to have financial implications at the club and has put newly appointed head coach Sixten Bostrom under pressure.

When HJK decided last season against extending the contract of former Finland head coach Antti Muurinen, who had steered them into the Champions League in his first spell there in the late 1990s and won five league titles in total, his replacement was a surprise choice. A former HJK and Finland midfielder, Bostrom had most recently been coach of Swedish club Orebro before his sacking in 2012. Along with the return of Bostrom to his native Helsinki came three national team stalwarts in their early 30s: Teemu Tainio, Mikael Forssell and Mika Vayrynen, who were all returning home after lengthy spells abroad.

Bostrom's star-studded line-up has so far failed to gel in the league but the hope was that Europe would be a welcome distraction. In the recent past HJK players looking to attract foreign buyers have made a major effort in Europe: in 2010 striker Teemu Pukki scored three goals for HJK against Schalke during the Europa League qualifiers and was then signed by the Bundesliga side. Instead the reality awaiting HJK is a league clash against bottom-place JJK. If the club, currently second in the league, should win lift a fifth consecutive championship Bostrom and his players will get another opportunity to redeem themselves in Europe next season. Henrik Manninen

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