The new format of the Veikkausliiga seems to fit HIFK very well. After the initial 22 games, where each team faces each other home and away, the top and bottom half are divided into two respective series and face off once more. After the initial disappointment of not being able to secure a spot in the upper half, and thus qualifying for a position in the Europa League qualification playoff after the season, HIFK has regained some confidence and strong form in the first four games of the Veikkausliiga Challenger series.
HIFK – KPV: HIFK secure a spot in next years Veikkausliiga
The first match of the series was against KPV, on the 13th of September in Helsinki. HIFK’s Brazilian forwards were key to the 3-1 victory, with Luís Henrique netting twice, and Erikson Carlos scoring once asw well as assisting both of Luís Henriques goals. The win against KPV meant that IFK had secured a spot in upcoming season of the Veikkausliiga. But there was still a lot to fight for. Since Ilves won the Suomen Cup earlier in the season they automatically get one of the three Finnish spots in the Europa League qualifiers (the winner of the Veikkausliiga gets a spot in the first round of the Champions League qualification, the runner up gets a spot for the EL-qualifiers and the third one is decided in playoff after the season). This meant that not only would the team that ended up 7th get a spot in the playoff for the last EL-qualification, but also the team that would finish 8th.
HIFK – SJK: In form Luís Henrique shows muscle
A week later, HIFK faced SJK at home. Both teams were at 29 points before the game, and SJK were identified as the team to beat to be able to move up to 8th place. By the looks of it, it was going to be a close and tough game. But Luís Henrique was in good form once again and scored twice within the first half and sent a message to the opposition that HIFK were going to do everything they could to secure a place in the EL-qualification playoff. The second half consisted mostly of HIFK trying to break up SJK’s advances. Daniel Kollar made some spectacular saves and, together with the defensive line, he managed to keep a clean sheet. At the end whistle, the score was 2-0 to HIFK.
FC Lahti – HIFK: Top teams face off in Lahti
The first away game of the Challenger series would be against Lahti. Before the game were two points clear of HIFK, in 7th place (i.e. on the top of the bottom half). Both teams knew it was going to be decisive game. A win for either team would be paramount to them securing a spot in the playoff. HIFK were off to a rocky start as FC Lahtis Jerónimo Amione slipped through HIFK:s defence and placed the ball behind HIFK:s goalkeeper Daniel Kollar after just six minutes of play. But HIFK bounced back. In the beginning of the second half, Joel Mattson got the ball from Erikson Carlos. He saw an opening in FC Lahtis defense and decided to go for it. He moved forward and out-dribbled not one, not two, but three Lahti players and placed the ball behind Lahti goalkeeper Rakovsky. The score was level at 50 minutes. Roughly 20 minutes later, Mattsson was first on a ball and was able to head it towards a forward rushing Macario Hing-Glover. Hing-Glover took control of the ball and started sprinting towards goal. Two HIFK players were rushing towards Lahtis goal in the middle of the pitch, so Hing-Glover crossed it in front of goal. The ball flew perfectly towards midfielder Jabar Sharza, who hit a spectacular mid-run volley that flew right past Rakovsky. 2-1 for HIFK, and the nearly 200 HIFK supporters who hade traveled to Lahti were jubilant. Sadly, the lead was short-lived. Only two minutes later Jerónimo Amione made it 2-2 for FC Lahti. The match ended in a justified draw, leaving both teams with one point and the fight to secure a spot to live for another day.
VPS – HIFK: HIFK seal VPS’s fate, and secure place in EL-spot playoff
Last weekend HIFK traveled up to Vaasa, to face a struggling VPS for the second time in just over a month. VPS have had a rough seasons, staying beneath the relegation line for nearly the whole season Even so, as many of you know, VPS won the match in August with 3-2 (one of only two wins the entire season). While HIFK were keen on revenge, VPS were faced with something of a sudden death situation. If KPV lost to the seemingly better FC Lahti, and VPS managed to get a win, they could still have had a shot at moving past KPV and into the position for relegation playoff instead of facing straight relegation. And at half time, it looked like VPS could live to fight another day. Steven Morrisey had scored against HIFK in 22nd minute and KPV were losing in Lahti. the The Vaasa crowd were in a hopeful mood. There was just problem. They were facing a determined HIFK who had decided that they were going to take revenge. After a lax first half, HIFK decided to step up its game – an initiative seemingly spearheaded by forward Erikson Carlos. In the 58th minute he scored hist first goal (assisted by fellow Brazilian Luís Henrique). In 72nd minute HIFK took the lead, after another goal by Erikson Carlos. A few minutes later, VPS were awarded a penalty. The VPS skipper Sebastian Strandvall stepped up to the spot and converted the penalty, making it it 2-2. HIFK had trouble taking control of the game, but with three minutes of regular time left Luís Henrique’s fantastic throughball found Erikson Carlos. He was infront of two VPS defenders (on his own side of the pitch, therefor it not being offside). The VPS defenders simply couldn’t match his speed, and when he faced VPS goalkeeper Voskonian, he calmly rounded the goalkeeper and put the bal into the back of the net – thus making it 2-3 and completing his first Veikkausliiga hattrick. A short while later the referee blew his whistle. KPV had fought back against FC Lahti, and scored four goals in the second half. At the same time RoPS managed to beat SJK. This meant that not only was VPS’ relegation confirmed, but also that HIFK had moved past Lahti and that neither SJK nor RoPS could mathematically end up in 7th or 8th place.
HIFK are still to face RoPS at home, after the international break, on the 19th of October. Depending on that result HIFK will face either HJK or IFK Mariehamn in the first round of the playoff, to be played on the 23rd of October in either Mariehamn or Helsinki.