After a long wait, it has finally begun. The league season – the Veikkausliiga – is now finally under way. Considering all the events of the winter, with changes of ownership, public debate about whether HIFK would even receive a renewed license and the added bonus of a global pandemic going on, it was certainly a satisfying moment to watch HIFK run out onto the pitch and face FC Haka in its first Veikkausliiga-match for the season. But before we get into that, let’s have a quick recap of what happened in April.
After the disappointing exit from the Finnish Cup on April 3rd (which we discussed in last month’s update), HIFK returned to focusing on its preseason and the league. This included two friendlies against TPS and Gnistan. Head coach Joaquín Gómez said that the main focus of these matches were squad rotation and getting more data on the systems that HIFK could use during the league.
The match against TPS (who were relegated from the Veikkausliiga last season) was itself not that eventful. HIFK controlled the ball and TPS defended low and tried to counter-attack if possible. It continued like this until 10 minutes before the end, when TPS’s Rasmus Holma fouled Sakari Tukiainen inside of TPS’s box. Moshtagh Yaghoubi stepped up to the spot and scored. In addition to HIFK winning the match, some of the other highlights where Calum Ward’s first full match ( and first clean sheet) and Erikson Carlos’ return to the pitch after being out with an injury for almost 9 months.
The match against Gnistan followed the same kind of pattern as the one against TPS. HIFK controlled the match, Gnistan defended low and tried to counter-attack. While HIFK did seem to create a lot more chances in this match, the result would be the same as many of the previous ones: 1-0. The winning goal was scored by Jeremiah Streng in the 17th minute of the match.
To mark the end of its preseason, HIFK’s squad gathered at the Eerikkilä sport & outdoor resort for an internal match. After that, the preparations for the league were done and focus shifted to match training.
As announced in mid-March, the Veikkausliiga season would be postponed with roughly a month, until May. The idea behind the move was to maximize the number of matches with spectators allowed. All though, as of right now, spectators are still not welcome. So HIFK’s first home match of the season would have to be played without fans in attendance. While this was obviously a big disappointment, it didn’t seem to faze HIFK too much.
Veteran referee Mattias Gestranius blew his whistle and the 2021 season had finally begin. HIFK once again took control over the ball, while FC Haka were more passive and tried to counter when given an opportunity. HIFK’s first goal came in the 32nd minute. Pipe Sáez corner kick was a bit low, but after the balled bounced back to his feet from a Haka defender, the next cross made its way to Keaton Isaksson who headed the ball towards goal. After taking a deflection from a Haka defender, it changed its path and ended up behind Mika Hilanders back. 1-0 to IFK.
The second half became more even, with Haka controlling the match at points. Haka gained momentum and started pressing HIFK and even got a few very dangerous situations. But Markus Uusitalo was once again the right man between the sticks and saved anything that was kicked his way.
The second and final goal of the night came after some beautiful collaboration between Jeremiah Streng and Juanan Entrena. With the ball at his feet, Streng drew two defenders towards him which left Entrena with the possibility of moving towards goal free. Streng made a perfectly timed pass with Entrena going to opposite direction of the last Haka defender, and all the sudden Entrena was alone against Haka goalkeeper Hilander. The Spaniard calmly placed the ball on the left side, past Hilander, and thereby scored his first goal of the league season.
Sakari Mattila, who captained the star-chested in the match, said that he saw areas that needed improvement even though HIFK clinched the win.
“Our performance was two-sided. The first half we controlled the ball, just like we planned. But the second half was not like we planned at all. We were too passive and should’ve controlled the ball more,” said Mattila after the match.
Nevertheless, HIFK did manage to clinch a win in its season opener and Mattila said that he was happy about that, and that the team would try to keep this feeling going.
“Three points and a clean sheet. I think we’ve gotten some wind in our sails now and we’d like to keep this going against SJK on Friday!”