After beating FC Lahti 1-0 in the final match of the group stage of the Finnish Cup, it was clear that HIFK would advance into the round of 16. On the 4th of March, HIFK drew Rovaniemen Palloseura as their following opponents. The match against RoPS was scheduled for the 14th of March.
New additions to the squad against RoPS were Matej Hradecký and Aatu Kujanpää. Both players had previously played for SJK and were familiar faces for head coach Gomez.
– Aatu is a young player, who has a lot of potential and in addition to this he is familiar to our head coach. He’ll get a chance to show what he’s got and we believe that he will soon be ready to take the final step towards being a Veikkausliiga-player, said sporting director Mika Lönnström in regards to the contract with Kujanpää.
Just as Kujanpää, Matej Hradecký had also been training with HIFK for a couple of weeks when the contract was finally done and according to Lönnström, he had been on the HIFK staffs wishlist for even longer.
– I’ve wanted Matej to join HIFK for a number of years, so I’m naturally delighted about this contract. Our whole team – Christoffer Perret, Juhani Tähkävuori and Joaquín Gómez – have done brilliant work in making this possible. Now we’ve got a quality squad that has a lot of competition on every position, said Lönnström.
But both players were going to have to wait to make their debuts for HIFK. The match against RoPS was postponed, due to a member of HIFK’s team testing positive for the coronavirus. The whole team was put into a 14-day quarantine.
– I’ve spoken with the players and told them that this is just another challenge for us as a team; but one we are going to face with the same attitude and approach than everything else: with a positive mentality, hard work and to make the most out of it (enjoy it as much as possible on the way). This will make us stronger as a group. And our main focus now is to make sure our players, staff and their families are safe as well as make sure we keep improving ourselves to be ready for the upcoming competitions we have to face, was head coach Joaquín Gómez’ response once the news about the quarantine was published.
During the two weeks in quarantine, HIFK focused on building up strength through workout sessions led by team physios and also engaged in other activities such as pilates and had a lecture on nutrition and sleep. On the 26th of March the team resumed squad training. The new date for the match against RoPS was set for the 28th, which meant that the team only had two full days to prepare for it.
HIFK flew to Rovaniemi and faced a very different RoPS than they had faced only last October in the Veikkausliiga. RoPS has gone through a lot of changes, most recognizably in their turnover of players. The current squad is significantly younger than previous years and included lots of youth national team players, hungry to prove themselves.
The match started according to plan. HIFK controlled the possession, the pace of the game and created lots of chances. The problem was that the chances did not convert to goals. It would take HIFK until the 89th minute of the match, as substitute Juanan Entrena, making his second appearance in the HIFK shirt, scored his first for the “star-chested”. Aldayr Hernández made a low cross into the box, towards Jani Bäckman. “Bäri” turned around and saw that Entrena stood relatively unmarked dead centre in front of goal and passed it towards Entrena, who just kicked it towards goal and in behind RoPS’ goalkeeper. 1-0 for HIFK, and that was all it took to go through to the quarter finals.
It was already clear who the opponent in the quarter finals was going to be, even before facing RoPS. It was the winner of the group stage, i.e. local rivals HJK. The match was scheduled for the 3rd of April, and as not much else happened during March, we’re going to include it in this recap.
HIFK had not made it to the quarter finals since 2015. It had not made it into the semi-finals since the 50’s. A lot was at stake, and the whole team was eager to leave their mark on history.
The first half started out even, and while HJK seemed to control the game a little bit more, HIFK still had one or two good chances. It could’ve gone either way in the first half, but it was still 0-0. The second half would turn out to be decisive. Early on in the second half HJK were awarded a questionable penalty, as Daniel O’Shaughnessy tripped over Hannu Patronen. HJK’s Roope Riski went up against Markus Uusitalo and while Uusitalo guessed correctly, the penalty shot was hard enough to slip past him. 1-0 to HJK after 50 minutes.
What then followed can only be described as a bit farcical. HIFK were keen on not letting trailing by 1-0 get to them and went straight into the offensive. Jukka Halme had come on instead of Tino Palmasto at the break, but now, just 15 minutes into the second half was shown a really questionable red card. Even after this HIFK playes still seemed to have fight inside of them, but despite valiant efforts to get a goal, HJK scored twice within two minutes and at 3-0 after 68 minutes, HIFK didn’t manage to recover. The final score meant the end of HIFK’s cup campaign for this season.
When asked about his thoughts after the match against HJK, head coach Joaquín Gómez said that it was: “Anger. Anger. Because my players, my club and Finnish football don’t need a game like that.” and continued praising his team for their efforts, even in the face of “all of the decisions – all of them – were against them”.
Now HIFK have a roughly a month until the league finally starts, and in that period it will play three friendlies. First up is TPS on the 10th, followed by Gnistan on the 17th and finally KTP on the 24th. All of the matches are away matches.