As the winter leagues across Europe enter full swing, this is the time of the year when the summer leagues start drawing to a close.
We’ve already seen a few familiar champions crowned, including BATE Borisov winning their 10th title in a row in Belarus. But the element of predictability is certainly not evident in Finland and Sweden this year.
As the final fortnight of the season begins, both leagues have three teams all within touching distance of getting their hands on their top domestic trophy.
From a team six miles outside the Arctic Circle, to an International goalscorer representing the world’s 202nd best nation; all mixed in with the usual thrills and spills of an enthralling title rollercoaster, the spotlight is on for an exciting finale.
A nation generally more focussed on its Ice Hockey than its Football, Finland’s top tier (The Veikkausliiga) has struggled to have a competitive edge at the top for a few years with the nation’s most successful team, HJK Helsinki winning the last six titles.
This year has been the complete opposite with HJK down in 3rd position yet they lie just two points behind SJK in 1st, whilst RoPS Rovaniemi are sandwiched in between the two in 2nd position, just a point off top spot. All with a single game to go.
Not since 2008 have HJK gone into a title race without being in the driving seat as the two teams in front of the Finnish giants eagerly chase their maiden titles of Finland’s highest footballing competition.
The leaders – SJK Seinäjoki are very much the new kids on the block having only formed in 2007 after the merging of TP-Seinäjoki and Sepsi.
They gained promotion to the top tier in 2014 where they finished in a highly impressive 2nd position in their debut season, but this season they are hoping to go one better. On paper, they are now the favourites to snatch the crown coming into the season finale with seven wins in 10 games as well as boasting both the best attacking and defensive goal records in the whole league.
Hot on their tales come both RoPS and HJK, RoPS are also looking for their first ever Veikkausliiga title. Having gotten used to very much being the yo-yo team in Finnish football, RoPS are well ahead of their previous best league placing which was 7th position in 1998.
They’re hoping this season’s momentum can take them to the top with three wins from their last five. They are also the leagues most isolated team up in the north of Finland, just six miles south of the Arctic Circle and 214km north of their nearest league competitors.
HJK are the outside bet to regain their title, they would need a win with both SJK and RoPS dropping points. Having started the season relatively solid, HJK’s form began to deteriorate after the midway point of the season and a disastrous September saw them lose four of their five games with back-to-back losses to both of their title rivals as they drifted away from top spot.
So, one League fixture left for all three teams, all kick off at 12 noon (11am GMT) on Sunday 25th October.
SJK have the slightly favourable game, they are at home to bottom of the table FF Jaro who incidentally, haven’t won a game since they last played SJK in August. RoPS face a stubborn away trip to Lahti whilst HJK travel north to 8th placed KuPS but both teams know that they require a ‘Seinäjoki slip-up’ if they are going to capitalize on gaining 1st position.
Across the Baltic Sea to Finland’s neighbours, Sweden’s top flight division, the Allsvenskan is also completely up for grabs. Three teams, separated by a single point with two games remaining. IFK Norrköping lead the way on 60 points with a +2 goal difference ahead of AIK who also have 60 points with IFK Göteborg a point behind in 3rd.
Norrköping have had an extremely successful 2015 and are performing beyond their expectations this season. Having come through a disappointing season last year where they finished in 12th position, Norrköping have managed to retain their early momentum to withstand pressure from the big teams around them.
Their prolific striker, Emir Kujovic remains the Allsvenskan’s top goalscorer with 19 goals in 27 games. Having not won a title since 1992, Norrköping now have a great chance to end their current drought.
AIK remain on the same points tally as Norrköping and much of their success has to be placed on their emphatic home record this season with one of the highest win percentages in Europe. Thirteen wins from 14 home games has propelled them up to 2nd spot and a shot at the chance of their 6th Allsvenskan title.
AIK are also in brilliant form with 12 wins from their last 14 games despite a derby loss to city rivals Hammarby. Interestingly enough, AIK’s top goalscorer, Henok Goitom has just started representing the country of his family’s origin – Eritrea, who sit at number 202 in the FIFA World Rankings behind the likes of San Marino and Vanuatu.
Just behind the top two come the resurgent IFK Göteborg. Once the dominant force of Swedish Football in the 1990’s, Göteborg have recently had to watch their rivals Malmö FF take the crown over the last two years.
Göteborg are another team with an exceptional record at home and up until the end of September they were favourites to claim the title ahead of the chasing pack, yet a number of stuttering performances have seen the inform presence of AIK and Norrköping overtake them.
Despite another impressive Qualification for the Champions’ League Group Stage, previous Champions Malmö have struggled domestically and currently sit in 5th position, they’ll likely strengthen after this season and be back firing next season so it’s a huge opportunity for someone to take a crucial championship.
Two fixtures to go in total and, most interestingly, the game of this weekend sees AIK host Göteborg. If there’s a winner in that one then that could all but make it a two-horse race. Norrköping face a home match against strugglers Halmstad who are yet to win away.
The final fixtures of the season take place on October 31st at 1pm (12 noon BST) with another mouth-watering tie as this time Norrköping travel to Malmö. AIK face the short away trip to face an improving Örebro side whilst Göteborg host Kalmar.
Despite not being high up on the pecking order of many football fans, the conclusion to this year’s Allsvenskan and Veikkausliiga looks set to capture fans imaginations across Scandinavia, we can’t promise a 90+6th minute Aguero goal to snatch the title but we can certainly expect some drama with twists and turns along the way.