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The League Cup in Finland is a curious competition. Played as a competitive series of games, it serves as a pre-season competition for the 12 teams in the Veikkausliiga (Finland’s Premier League) but, as it kicks off in mid-February and Finland is mostly under a metre or two of snow, it is played indoors.
Th structure of the Liigacup is also unusual. The first round sees the teams divided into four groups each consisting of three teams, who all play each other twice in the group stage. At the end of this stage the top two from each group progress, providing eight teams for the quarter finals. From here it is a straight knock-out competition through to the final.
There’s one more quirk to this competition, though, as progression through the rounds of the Liigacup, also gains a better seeding in the Suomencup (Finland’s FA Cup), whereby those that get knocked out in the group stage of the Liigacup, start the Suomencup in the 3rd round, and those progressing to the Semi-final of the Liigacup, join the Suomencup in the 6th round – so there is an incentive to treat this as more than a pre-season warm-up series.
And so this weekend I found myself in Seinäjoki’s Wallsport Areena to watch the second of Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho’s Liigacup games. After a close victory against local rivals VPS Vaasa (1-0 on Wed 11.2), today’s match ws against the other team from the Pohjanmaa region, FF Jaro from Pietersaari.
A crowd of 504 saw a close first-half, Jaro played neat, passing football but lacked a creative spark to make any chances for their strikers. SJK looked more dangerous, with Richie Dorman & Akseli Pelvas creating chances down both wings, although it wasn’t until the 41st minute that the first goal was scored, with Pelvas rounding the Jaro goalkeeper, having latched onto a through ball from new striker Ariel ‘Tuco’ Ngueukam.
The second-half was not easy for SJK, although the scoreline suggests differently. The second goal early on, Sarajärvi feeding Tuco, allowed us (the supporters) to relax, but it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that the scoreline became overwhelming for Jaro. Firstly, a long, mazy run from fans’ favourite, Cedric Gogoua, saw the ball fall to Bahrudin Atajic, a former Celtic youth player, currently on trial at SJK). FF Jaro went down to 10 men after a sending off for a lunging challenge on SJK’s Wayne Brown, before the final goal was scored by captain Marco Matrone in the 88th minute.
An impressive final score, which is only enhanced when you consider that the SJK team was without regular goalkeeper Mikhel Aksalu, recent Finnish national team selection Johnny Laaksonen, & star striker Toni Lehtinen plus new signings Jussi Vasara and Mehmet Hetemaj. Next up are the away games against the same two teams, VPS on 18.2 and then FF Jaro on 28.2.
It looks like SJK are in for another good season!
◊◊◊ Mark ◊◊◊