Maccabi Tel Aviv heads to Helsinki in Conference League play

Oct 20, 2021 | Football

Maccabi Tel Aviv visit HJK Helsinki this Thursday on Matchday 3 of the UEFA Conference League as the clubs are set for the opening whistle at 17:30 Israel time. The Yellow & Blue enter the contest in first place with a win and a draw while their Finnish opponents find themselves in third with a win and a loss after two matches.

Ahead of the clash, The Sports Rabbi spoke with Ari Virtanen from Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest daily in Finland to find out more about what Patrick van Leeuwen’s team will be up against.

HJK was founded in 1907, just one year after Maccabi Tel Aviv and has a long and storied history with 30 league championships, however, they have not been a power in European football having only played in the group stages of a continental competition once this century when they punched their ticket to the 2014/15 Europa League. Prior to that Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi had featured one time in the Champions League group stages back in 1998/99 having never managed to navigate out of the qualification rounds.

This season head coach Toni Koskela has put together a team that may be able to make some noise on a continental level Virtanen explained, “They have tried to build a dynamic team which is quick in transitions. That has worked in European matches. But in the Finnish Veikkausliiga (domestic league) they have had some difficulties as opponents tend to rely on low defense block against HJK.”

The squad itself has a strong base of local players Virtanen said and pointed to a number of them that Maccabi will need to keep a watchful eye on, “Defenders Daniel O’Shaughnessy and Miro Tenho. Midfielder Lucas Lingman who pulls the strings. Striker Roope Riski is a good finisher along with Filip Valencic. O’Shaughnessy made his breakthrough last year when he started to play in the national team.”

However, HJK has a tough time finding talented players to make the move to the Scandinavian country and sports a player budget of only 1.7 million Euros, Virtanen said, “HJK is the biggest club in Finland but it is still a rather small club in European scale. They are a self-sufficient club but it’s hard to get quality players to Finland as they can’t compete with the salaries their European rivals are paying.”

“Basically they try to develop their young talents and every now and then they manage to lure back good Finnish players who return to Finland. They can also offer a good springboard to some foreign players as the club plays in European qualifiers almost every year.”

As for the atmosphere Maccabi can be expecting, Virtanen explained that the pandemic has played a factor in keeping fans away from the stadium, “We are still living during the pandemic time and therefore has an effect in many ways. First of all not all of the fans are willing to come to matches now. Secondly, the club has done hardly any marketing during this year because of the pandemic. So there have been matches where the attendance has been unusually low. In the first Conference League match there were only 3548 spectators.”

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