Saturday, October 28, 2017

HJK – TPS (07-10-2017)

Directly after CLE-MPS/Atletic Malmi has ended, I walk through the players entrance onto the pitch and into the stands of the Telia 5G Arena (better known as Sonera Stadium), where a play-off game in the Naisten Liga, the highest division of women’s football in Finland.

The game is between the local team, Helsingin Jalkapalloklub (HJK), and Turun Palloseura (TPS) from Turku; both are clubs with teams in the top division of men’s football too. There are some 200 people in the stadium, a quite new stadium (inaugurated in 2000) that can hold 10,700.

There are some 40 away supporters, who made the roughly 170 km (or 110 miles) trip from Turku (in the southwest) to Helsinki. Although there are some banners, most people seem related to the players. One man is singing all by himself, throughout the game, seemingly unbothered by the fact that no one joins in.

The women on both teams look very young, more like an U-19 than a regular senior team. They are playing on a cold day and the rain starts as soon as the game starts. The pitch is Astroturf, which means it is flat, which means the ball is easy to control, but also very fast in the rain.

The first fifteen minutes are for the home team, which gets the best chance in the 15th minute, but it is headed just wide. The play is better than in the previous game; the passing, in particular, is good, and the control looks good, but there are also big spaces around players. Some players have powerful legs, others not so much, which sometimes slows down the play.

In the 23rd minute a TPS midfielder just goes and goes and then shoots from some 20 meters in the corner: 0-1. Five minutes later they have a surprise shot in the corner, but it is stopped. One of the nicest thing of the game is that the women don’t go down easy and don’t stop playing after every small foul. After just 44 minutes and 23 seconds the referee whistles for half time: 0-1!

The second half start with a good attack by the visitors but the shot at goal is too weak. Two minutes later the hosts have a corner, which goes over the goalkeeper but isn’t finished. While HJK keeps up the pressure, TPS counters and gets the slightly better chances. Both sides are poor in finishing.

In the 75th minute a long pinball-like attack by HJK ends up, miraculously, in the hands of the TPS goalie. As more and more mistakes are being made, most people seem to believe it will end 0-1. But then, in the 87th minute, the hosts have a corner, the goalie blunders, and the ball falls in the pack of players: 1-1. 

Three minutes later HJK takes a penalty and a striker walks out of the penalty box with the rebound and gets (slightly) fouled: penalty. In the 92nd minute the penalty is converted: 2-1. One minute later the game is over. What a comeback.

I have to be honest, if there was a game in the first three divisions of men’s football, I would go there. But if the choice is between the Kolmonen and the Naisten Liga, go to the latter!

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