With the delayed Euro 2020 Final tournament now approaching eyes have turned to the various huuhkajatplayers plying their trades all across Europe and beyond. Some Finns are reaching the end of their long league seasons and some are just kicking off.
In Italy Niki Maenpaa has been in sensational form and at the time of writing has just kept yet another clean sheet to put his Venezia side in pole position going into the Serie B Play Off Semi Final second leg. In the previous legate “Winged Lions” faced Chievo Verona and Niki lined up against his Huuhkajat team mate Sauli Väisänen. Sauli has been on a long road to recovery following a niggling foot injury but his recent performances for the flying donkeys have certainly been solid and he would definitely be an option for Rive Kanerva’s expanded national team squad. In Sweden Sauli’s brother Leo has also made his return from injury and popped up with a goal in his first game back for Elfsberg. The Allsvenskan season is 7 games in and regular minutes for Leo will be a welcome sight for Rive.
Also in Sweden is Joona Toivio. His BK hacken side sit bottom of the table with no wins and 3 points from 7 games but Joona is of course a shoe in at centre back for Rive and has a Svenska Cupen final at the end of the month. The other Finns across the Allsvenskan include Skau Ylatupa who is chipping in with regular goals and assists for third placed AIK, Saku Eriksson who after his recent call up to the national squad has been mostly a spectator from the bench for Mjallby and RasmusSchuller who is putting in some very solid 8 out of 10 performances week in and week out for early league leaders DIF. Despite the Euros being delayed by 12 months they have probably still come too early for Ylatupa and Eriksson looks unlikely to add to his recent call up considering Maenpaa’s renaissance in Italy but Rive is surely to be very impressed with Schuller who looks composed and competent in the middle for Blåränderna.
In Poland Albin Granlund and Petteri Forsell were able to celebrate last week as their Stal Mielec side confirmed their top flight status for another season finishing just above the drop zone. Forsell had been directly involved in more than a few of the goals that helped the Biało-niebiescy stay up. His long throws causing havoc in opposition defences in the last couple of games. Albin Granlund too managed regular minutes and is probably the most likely of the pair to make it on the plane to the Euros. Robert Ivanov is also in Poland and he was able to relax a bit more than his countrymenas his Warta Poznan Warta side marked their to the Polish Ekstraklasa after a 25 year absence with a fifth place finish, the clubs best result since winning the football championship in 1947. Ivanov could be described as a fringe player or one for the future even at 26 years old but the extra squad allowance could mean that he finds himself on the plane.
Two leagues that are just kicking off are the Norwegian Eliteserien and the MLS in America. After 3 games Robert Taylor’s Sportsklubben Brann sit bottom of the league in Norway. SK had a difficult pre-season but Taylor managed to contribute a couple of goals. Despite the form of his club Robert will hopeful of making Rive’s squad after impressing in the most recent Huuhkajat internationals. In Denmark Juhani Ojala, Joni Lauko and Pyry Soiri have all been in good form for their clubs, Juhani’s Velje on course to avoid the drop but Kauko and Soiri’s Esbjerg just missing out on promotion back to the top flight.
Over in the states Robin Lodis another Finn who finds his club at the wrong end of league. Minnestota United have 6 points from as many games but Lod has been one of the stand out performers for the Loons with goals and assists which he will be hoping to recreate for Huuhkajat.
Over in Germany Joel Pohjanpalo has returned well from his injury and poked home a goal past his Finland team mate Lukas Hradecky last weekend. Both players will be looking forward to European competition with their respective clubs next season with Union Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen sitting 7th and 6th respectively. Jolle may well be returning to Bayer on completion of his loan at Union. Bayer were challenging at the top end of the league until Luke’s untimely injury but he has returned well and has kept a number of clean sheets in recent weeks.
In Britain two Huuhkajat have become champions in recent weeks. Teemu Pukki earned his second English Championship title with Norwich City scoring 26 goals along the way, while Marcus Forss has struggled to continue his good form from earlier in the season. North of the border in Scotland Glen Kamara capped off a memorable season as an undefeated Scottish Premier League Champion. The Gers conceded just 13 goals all season and finished on 102 points.
In the Mediterranean off-field issues seem to have troubled Tim Sparv’s time in Greece though the Huuhkaja captain is fit again just in time for the finals, while in Cyprus Paulus Arajuuri and Onni Valakari have both been looking sharp for Pafos, who sit top of the league with three games left, Onni bagging 13 in 35 along the way.
So, as the call to join the extended squad rings around the world most Huuhkajat find themselves in decent form, in strong roles for their teams but are usually involved in a bit of a scrap, which is just the way we like it, and probably the best preparation for this group of players ahead of the battle to come at the Euros.