2pm: I’m going to endeavour to write a live blog on the game today. Last time we did this for a Euro game the site had some technical problems, and that is quite likely to happen again – if it does, we will switch to NFN’s Twitter page. I’ll endeavour to answer comments as the day progresses.
2:40pm: Ilkka Mäkelä is getting ready for tonight’s game, but was happy to answer a few questions from NFN. The match is likely to be a sellout, with an 8,000 capacity for European competition and 80% of tickets sold so far, and that is not something the Lahti players have experienced too many times before.The first game in Brugge was quite an experience for them. For the Brugge view, you should check out the pre-game article on their website.
“Only Litmanen and Rafael have experienced atmospheres like that, with a big crowd and a closed stadium,” Mäkelä enthused. “Also the captain Jukka Vanninen was with Exeter City when they played Everton at Goodison Park in the FA Cup. It will be nice to have a big crowd tonight, and the atmosphere with 4,000 at the Gorica game was pretty good, but our home ground is open and it is not the same.”
Lahti ski stadium is indeed open and a little bit sterile, but it has the bizarre yet spectacular ski-jumping ramps at one end. Maybe that will scare the Brugge players into submission. Mäkelä is not relying on that though, having identified a weakness in the Brugge defence.
“Alcaraz and Donk are both very good players, but they have not played together so much,” Mäkelä continued. “That might afford us some opportunities. Not with long balls, that is pointless when the conditions are so good andwe have no big players, but with a little bit of movement. Jari Litmanen’s qualities will be important, as they always are.”
Litmanen, of course, is one of the greatest Finnish footballers of all time. If he plays well, so will Lahti, but he has had to be nursed through lahti’s heavy schedule recently.
“He is excellent, and very important for the younger players in the team,” enthused Mäkelä. “He did not play on Sunday, as he can only really play one game a week at this stage of his career, but that’s known and accepted and we plan around it.”
But hasn’t Lahti’s schedule been a little bit heavy recently?
“Yes! We have had two games a week since the middle of June, and in our last five games we’ve only had one home match. We have had long, hard coach journeys to our last two league matches, played in between important European games. We complained about this last November, but it seems like the league have not listened to us at all.”
15:05: TZagallo said “I just checked out your twitter-site, just in case worse comes to worst. Accidentally noticed that one of the people following your blog is the chairman of the Swedish Social Democratic Party and ex-minister, Mona Sahlin.”
That is heartening news, I didn’t realise she was a football fan. Although I think you may be confused, and NFN is actually following her?
7 mins: This will be a challenging live blog, as Lahden stadion has no power points in the press seats. The press conference room is currently given over to VIP facilities, and journalists will be admitted after the game. This makes it difficult for my laptop to remain powered up, but we’ll seat what we can do.
Ronald Vargas was just caught offside for Brugge, and Litmanen has had some predictably magisterial moments of possession retention. The stadium looks great, with a full house, and the Brugge fans are making their presence felt. They are chanting their club’s name in French, for some reason, I will try to find out why. Time to conserve power, the score is still 0-0, and Vargas just got a yellow card for fouling Toivomäki.
45 mins: Looking okay for Lahti so far. They’ve given away a couple of chances to Vargas and Blondel, but Szentpeteri has been equal to the challenge. Henri Toivomäki has been pretty solid at left back aside from a couple of mistakes – he has a calm head for an 18 year old.
The biggest challenge for Lahti will be tiredness. NFN’s pre-match entertainment was enjoyed with Lahti’s Brazilian community, who are of course on good terms with Raphael. He complained of tiredness after the Vaasa away game, not that he was fatigued but that he had nothing left in his legs in that match, after a long trip and a tough game.
Brugge look good at keeping the possession, but don’t have the incisive edge they might need – the atmosphere here is reminiscent of a well-attended pre-season friendly rather than a vital European tie, with a decent crowd in the hill overlooking the ground as well. The fans are a little subdued, outside of the ‘monkey stand’ populated by the hardcore Lahti supporters, with the only atmosphere coming at Lahti set-pieces when the rhythmic clapping that usually accompanies winter sports gets going.
50 mins: Good stuff from Lahti. Fofana went clear down the right after Toivomäki and Litmanen combined well, but nobody could get on the end of the cross and when it eventually fell to Raphael he blazed over.
55 mins: A nice flick from dirar sets Daerden free down the left, but the cross comes to nothing. Lahti need to do something to relieve the pressure, and to that end they bring off Riku Heini for Drilon Shala.
58 mins: The ball is laid off to Blondel, but his shot is blazed wide. There are now hordes of people watching the game on the hill, at the ski-jump end and by the gate way up in the trees. Lahti look tired.
61 mins: Lahti’s tiredness is beginning to show now. Stijnen cleared the ball straight to Drilon Shala, but the ball was lost even before Litmanen and Raphael had returned from their offside positions.
67 mins: Alcaraz heads straight at Szentpetteri from a corner. Lahti are having great difficulty keeping the ball, and need to change something around.
70 mins: Henri Toivomäki gets a yellow card for an elbow in Akpala’s back.
72 mins: Litmanen was set free on the right, laid it back for Vanninen, whose shot was deflected for a corner. Much better from Lahti – as I type Fofana shoots over after a clever backheel from Shala to keep a move going down the left.
75 mins: Akpala whips the ball away from Szentpetteri after a corner, deflecting it into the top corner. Gutting, after the last couple of minutes of semi-decent Lahti pressure.
84 mins: I’m not posting much because there isn’t much to post. brugge are well in control and Lahti are not doing much to trouble them.
86 mins: famous last words….. captain Vanninen nudges Daerden to the floor, races through on goal, and drives it into the bottom corner. Lahti need one more to level the tie on aggregate…
89 mins: An excellent spell of Lahti possession begins with Daerden kicking the ball out of play, seemingly in panic, and ends with a Hietanen cross just evading Fofana, Shala and Raphael.
90 mins: Fantastic stuff from lahti at the death here, with Drilon Shala at the centre of it. First raphael chests it down and he shoots just wide for a corner, then Raphael crosses from the right, the keeper fists it out, and Shala heads just over. The ref blows for full time, and lahti are out despite giving it a bloody good go in the end.