DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Josh Wicks and Mason Trafford should both be in the starting eleven for IFK Mariehamn on Thursday evening when they welcome Veikkausliiga rivals KuPS in the semifinal of the Finnish Cup.
Giuseppe Funicello could be called in to deputize in the defense in the face of several absences.
A strong showing throughout the early rounds of the Cup has seen Mariehamn fight their way to the final four of the competition for the second straight season, and they will hope that this time they will put all the pieces together for a berth in the final.
The Islanders were easily knocked out of the semifinal one year ago, falling to Finnish powerhouse HJK Helsinki by three goals to none.
This time around they have several factors squarely in their corner, the most important of which is the fact that they will have had close to one solid week at home in the remote southwestern Åland Islands before welcoming the Veikkausliiga's eastermost team KuPS.
These two teams met in league play exactly one week before this crucial cup tilt, with the final 2-1 win going to KuPS in a game which Mariehamn could very well have won heavily had they held a little bit of luck in their hands.
The hosts will also receive a huge boost from their most recent result, a 2-0 victory over two-time reigning champions HJK on Sunday, an impressive result which pulled them up to fourth in the league.
Adding to the pressure already heaped upon the hosts, the match-fixing controversy which has been a major headline-grabber throughout the last few months in Finland has embroiled Mariehamn in the days leading up to the final.
While no current players are implicated in any wrong-doing, former starting keeper Willis Ochieng, who was replaced by Wicks in the off-season is now suspected of purposely allowing goals in at least two games in the previous season.
This is highly unlikely to have any official negative outcome on Mariehamn as the organization itself is not suspected of any wrong-doing, however head coach Pekka Lyyski will be hoping that this will not serve as any kind of distraction to the team.
While avoiding any controversy, KuPS have had their own league issues to contend with, suffering a slow start which has left them in ninth place after six games played, a far cry from their runners-up campaign of 2010.
Mariehamn will be missing several players, as Brazilian central defender Fernando de Abreu is out for several months with a broken arm, and defender Johannes Nordström is currently on international duty.
In addition, four new additions to the team - defenders Kristian Kojola and Jarkko Värttö, midfielder Jonas Emet and forward Alexei Kangaskolkka - who were signed from disbanded Tampere United are ineligible to play due to having played in earlier rounds with their former team. Of the four, only Kangaskolkka has not been a fixture in the starting lineup, likely causing several holes in the lineup, one of which could be plugged by Italian-American defender Giuseppe Funicello.
KuPS are reporting a fully-loaded squad for the game.