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Sami Heikkinen: The Winter Soldier

From the depths of the land of winter wonders, a footballing miracle is born.
Started on 2 March 2018 by Justice
Latest Reply on 24 April 2018 by Justice
Justice's avatar Group Justice
6 yearsEdited

Finland's European Club Qualification Places

An Overview In The Changes Of Finland's European Club Qualification Places

A lot has changed in Finnish football since Sami Heikkinen took charge of FC Honka Espoo several years ago. Eight years later, Finnish football was certainly on the rise, with more and more high profile players entering the league and the national team (finally) consistently qualifying for major competitions.

FC Honka Espoo's achievements in European competition has benefited the nation as a whole, with improved qualification places for Finnish clubs coming in the past few years. Let us have a look at how Finnish clubs can now qualify for European competition through domestic success.

UEFA Qualification Places

Finland Now Have Five Teams In Total Qualifying For European Competitions

Since Sami Heikkinen's arrival at FC Honka Espoo, Finland have moved up to 9th in the qualification coefficient rankings. This means a total of five teams may qualify for European competition, through domestic success, with two of those teams qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. The qualification places are allocated as follows:

Qualification Places:
1st: UEFA Champions League Group Stage
2nd: UEFA Champions League Best Placed Third Qualifying Phase
3rd: UEFA Europa League Group Stage
4th: UEFA Europa League Third Qualifying Round
5th: UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round (Depends on Suomen Cup winner)

Suomen Cup
Winner: UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round

Finland sit in 9th position with a current coefficient of 39.300 for the ongoing 2025/2026 UEFA club season. This is just over three points shy of 8th placed Portugal. To gain another spot in Europe, Finland would need to climb to 6th place, which is currently held by Holland who are 9.900 points ahead of them.

UEFA Club Coefficients

FC Honka Espoo Are Ranked 14th In The UEFA Coefficient Standings

FC Honka Espoo certainly prop up the rest of the Finnish teams, as they sit in 14th place. This has been helped by winning the 2025 UEFA Champions League final, as well as reaching the final of the 2023 edition.

The nearest Finnish team is Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi who sit in 94th position. For Finland's overall club coefficient to improve, FC Honka must not be the only team producing competitive performances in European competition.

Finland's Top Five Clubs:
14) FC Honka Espoo | Coefficient: 109.860
94) Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi | Coefficient: 20.860
138) FC Inter Turku | Coefficient: 14.860
160) Vaasan Palloseura | Coefficient: 10.360
167) Kuopion Palloseura | Coefficient: 9.860

Previous Update: #19 - Squad Overview: FC Honka 2026
Next Update: #21 - Dhanda: Honka Players Like Family
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6 yearsEdited

Dhanda: Honka Players Like Family

Yan Dhanda Discussed His Time At FC Honka Espoo To Date

Yan Dhanda has been a hit with the FC Honka Espoo faithful since joining from Liverpool 2021. The English attacker has scored 91 goals for the Finnish side since joining, in just 193 appearances. He was a key part of the Honka side which lifted the UEFA Champions League last May, and the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of last year. He spoke to reporter Lewie Scott of Balik Sports Incorporated about his time at the club.

Yan, I think the first thing to ask you about is that incredible Champions League win last May. How was the experience for you?

Yan Dhanda: "Growing up, it is the dream of every football-loving kid to be in a team that wins the Champions League. It is, aside from the World Cup, the biggest trophy in football, and legends are made in the finals of the competition. To be a part of a Champions League winning team is a dream come true for me."

FC Honka became the first Finnish team to ever win the Champions League and, with all due respect to Honka, you were very much the underdogs in the competition. Did that title help you to succeed?

Yan Dhanda: "No, I don't think so. Every team we play against in the Champions League are top-notch professional sides. They are the best of the best. We have competed against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City over the years, and they are thoroughly professional in name and performance. No matter our stature, overcoming those teams is a testament to the work we put in every second of every day to deliver the best possible performance we can on the pitch."

What is Honka's secret to success? How does Sami Heikkinen manage to deliver title after title with your team?

Yan Dhanda: "Sami's more than just a manager for us. He's like a part of the family, and he treats the players like family. We're all very close to one another and we fight our battles for each other, because we are like family. The team spirit and camaraderie we have for each other is special and it is something money can't buy. That's the key to our success."

What has been your greatest game in a Honka shirt?

Yan Dhanda: "I think my best individual performance has to have been in the Champions League semi final in Madrid, when we beat Real Madrid 6-2. I scored a hat trick that day to help us reach the final and it was by far my best ever performance in a Honka shirt. The goals, the stage, the competition. It was something out of a fairy tale for me."

Dhanda's Favourite Performance Was In A 6-2 Mauling Of Real Madrid

You've played in a number of positions in your time at Honka, but have been mostly deployed on the right side of attack. Is that your favourite position?

Yan Dhanda: "Yeah it is. I have plenty of freedom when playing on the right side of attack and I've been able to be among the goals regularly. I have nearly 100 goals for the club now which I am very proud to have achieved.

We switch our formations regularly depending on the situation and who is available to play, from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 to 3-4-2-1, and I've played in every attacking position possible as a result, including on either side, as a number ten and up front. I think my versatility is a useful asset of mine, but my favourite position would be out right, where I didn't play much before joining Honka."

You are yet to play internationally, but you are eligible to play for both England and India. What does your international future hold?

Yan Dhanda: "At the minute I would prefer to play for England, where I spent my life. With all due respect to India, I don't think I would consider playing for them over England. If the opportunity arises, I would definitely play for England. Maybe I'll play for Finland in the future, I'm eligible to become a Finnish national next year!"

Honka kick off in the Suomen Cup soon, and you will be playing against Lille in the Last 16 of the Champions League soon after. How prepared are you guys for the start of the season?

Yan Dhanda: "We're set to go. We've had a few weeks off after the Club World Cup, and we're ready to go back out and win some more trophies. We're all very excited about the upcoming season and we hope to create some more amazing memories."

January - March Fixtures

Honka Play Against Lille In The UEFA Champions League Last 16

Honka open their Suomen Cup campaign with a group game against JJK. They were also drawn with rivals HJK in the group, as well as HJK's 'B' team Klubi-04. Honka will compete against French side Lille in the UEFA Champions League Last 16, with the first leg in Finland.

Previous Update: #20 - Finland's European Club Qualification Places
Next Update: #22 - Honka's Talent Factory
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6 yearsEdited

Honka's Talent Factory

A Look At FC Honka's Top Graduates Since Sami Heikkinen Took Charge

FC Honka Espoo was renowned for having the finest youth football program in Finland. With a number of their graduates going on to play for top clubs around Europe, and for Finland, here is a look at the top graduates that came through during Sami Heikkinen's reign.

Kai Hakala

Kai Hakala Graduated During Sami Heikkinen's First Season In Charge

Full Name: Kai Hakala
Age: 23 y/o (09/03/2002)
Year of Graduation: 2018
Position: MR/AMR
Current Club: FC Haka (FIN)
Honka Stats: Appearances: 26 | Average Rating: 6.72
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 134 | Average Rating: 6.83
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 0 | U21 Caps: 10

Kai Hakala was FC Honka Espoo's first major youth graduate during Sami Heikkinen's reign. The right winger broke straight in to the senior squad, making six appearances in his debut season in senior football. He made another twenty appearances for FC Honka the following season, but failed to make a major impact in the squad.

Hakala spent the next four seasons away on loan at FC Viikingit, HIFK, AC Oulu and FC Lahti, before moving to FC Inter Turku in 2024 for €83,000. He struggled to stake a permanent claim in the side, making just twenty appearances over two years before moving to FC Haka this year for €26,000.

While Kai Hakala didn't show truly great quality, and indeed only developed in to an average Veikkausliiga standard player, he was notable for being the first of a 'golden generation' of FC Honka Youth graduates.

Lasse Pohjanpalo

Lasse Pohjanpalo Has Become A Star Player For FC Honka And Finland

Full Name: Lasse Pohjanpalo
Age: 23 y/o (18/11/2002)
Year of Graduation: 2019
Position: ST
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo
Honka Stats: Appearances: 57 | Average Rating: 7.20
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 158 | Average Rating: 7.15
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 26 | U21 Caps: 12

In Sami Heikkinen's second year in charge, a real star graduated from FC Honka's academy. Lasse Pohjanpalo was an exciting striker with real speed and a superb ability to find the back of the net. He was a predator of similar ilk to Jermain Defoe.

With Honka's senior strikers fit and firing, Pohjanpalo required loan moves to secure first team experience. A domestic loan to HIFK in 2020 showcased his potential, as he scored six goals in ten appearances in all competitions. Loan spells at KuPS and FC Lahti followed in the next two seasons, and he scored thirty two goals during that time. He then spent time at La Liga side Alaves, before an incredible loan spell at Esbjerg in 2023/2024, where Pohjanpalo scored twenty one goals in all competitions.

Pohjanpalo's loan spell at Esbjerg prompted Sami Heikkinen to include Pohjanpalo in the senior side. The decision paid off as Pohjanpalo scored twenty seven goals throughout 2025. His performances in recent years have seen him be heavily involved with the Finnish senior team, and Lasse has fifteen international goals to his name already. His namesake, Joel Pohjanpalo, is the record goal scorer for Finland (51 goals), but Lasse is determined to break that in the future.

Thomas Axberg

Thomas Axberg Has Made Over 200 Appearances For FC Honka So Far

Full Name: Thomas Axberg
Age: 21 y/o (13/01/2004)
Year of Graduation: 2020
Position: GK
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo
Honka Stats: Appearances: 243 | Average Rating: 7.11
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 243 | Average Rating: 7.11
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 32 | U21 Caps: 4

Another year, another incredible youth intake. Thomas Axberg was the star of the intake in 2020, and the goalkeeper was immediately made FC Honka's starting goalkeeper at the age of 16.

Axberg's strengths were his all-round goalkeeping attributes. He understood the role of a goalkeeper very well, and was an extremely brave player. He has already made 243 appearances for FC Honka to date, and will become FC Honka's record appearance holder in the future.

Sami Kosonen

Sami Kosonen Was One Of Finland's Top Midfield Prospects

Full Name: Sami Kosonen
Age: 22 y/o (19/09/2003)
Year of Graduation: 2020
Position: MC/AMC
Current Club: Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi
Honka Stats: Appearances: 2 | Average Rating: 6.85
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 102 | Average Rating: 6.92
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 1 | U21 Caps: 27

Sami Kosonen graduated from FC Honka's prestigious youth academy in the same year as goalkeeper Thomas Axberg. Kosonen was a fairly versatile playmaker, with very good speed. His ability to pick out a pass and to see the game clearly made him a desirable player.

Unfortunately for Sami Kosonen, FC Honka was already stacked with high quality creative midfielders, and the midfielder only played two senior games for the club. In search of senior football, Kosonen moved to KuPS in 2023 for €525,000. He made sixty three appearances for the club before moving to HJK last season for €1,500,000.

Kosonen's performances for the Finnish capital city club earmarked him for senior football on the international stage, and he made his senior debut in November 2025. Kosonen was expected to become a regular for Finland, and was set for a bright few years at HJK.

Micky Senior

Micky Senior Had Become A Contender For Honka's Goalkeeping Position

Full Name: Micky Senior
Age: 21 y/o (13/10/2004)
Year of Graduation: 2021
Position: GK
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo
Honka Stats: Appearances: 32 | Average Rating: 7.22
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 32 | Average Rating: 7.22
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 1 | U21 Caps: 11

A year after Thomas Axberg came through the system, Micky Senior arrived. He wasn't quite as developed as Axberg was at that stage, and so had to settle with regular youth level football. Senior has since become Axberg's understudy, but last season saw Senior show a great case for contention for the starting spot, and may become Honka's starting goalkeeper in the near future.

While Axberg was known for being a well-rounded goalkeeper, Micky Senior was certainly an expert shot stopper. Standing at just six feet tall, he was not the tallest of goalkeepers, but his reflexes and handling abilities made him an incredible talent in goals.

Micky Senior made his Finnish senior team debut in 2024, but has not played any more for his country since, due to his lack of senior games at club level. This may change in the coming season, as the starting goalkeeper for Honka would likely be Finland's starting goalkeeper.

Vesa Lagerblom

Lagerblom Could Match Pohjanpalo For Goal Scoring Ability

Full Name: Vesa Lagerblom
Age: 19 y/o (11/05/2006)
Year of Graduation: 2022
Position: ST
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo (U20s)
Honka Stats: Appearances: 3 | Average Rating: 7.57
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 69 | Average Rating: 7.20
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 2 | U21 Caps: 24

2022 brought with it a superb striker prodigy in Vesa Lagerblom. He was not the most athletic of footballers, but his technical ability and his intelligence on the football pitch earmarked him for future seasons.

Lagerblom scored on his FC Honka debut in 2023, before heading to FC Lahti on loan that season. He spent the past two years on loan at FF Jaro, where he scored thirty two goals in all competitions. His movement off the ball, combined with his predator instinct in and around the box, made him a fierce threat up front.

Lagerblom scored 18 goals in 24 U21 appearances for his country, and made his senior debut in 2025 against Iceland. At the age of 19, Lagerblom is expected to add significantly to his 2 Finland caps to date.

Akseli Tiainen

Akseli Tiainen Was An Aerial Threat Up Front

Full Name: Akseli Tiainen
Age: 17 y/o (13/07/2008)
Year of Graduation: 2024
Position: ST
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo (U20s)
Honka Stats: Appearances: 0 | Average Rating: 0
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 2 | Average Rating: 6.65
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 0 | U21 Caps: 6

Another striker! 2024 brought Akseli Tiainen through FC Honka's youth program. He was very different in style to Lasse Pohjanpalo and Vesa Lagerblom, who came through Honka's youth system in recent seasons. Tiainen was certainly a major aerial threat, with his strength and acceleration making him a very mobile target man.

Tiainen has not yet made any senior appearances for FC Honka, but did spend a couple of months on loan at FF Jaro last season where he made two appearances. He had made major impact internationally, scoring three times in six games for Finland U21s.

Anssi Masalin

Masalin Has Made An Instant Impact Since Coming Through Honka's System

Full Name: Anssi Masalin
Age: 16 y/o (20/06/2009)
Year of Graduation: 2025
Position: AML/AMR
Current Club: FC Honka Espoo
Honka Stats: Appearances: 5 | Average Rating: 7.04
Career Club Stats: Appearances: 5 | Average Rating: 7.04
Finland Stats: Senior Caps: 0 | U21 Caps: 1

Anssi Masalin was the latest hot prospect to come through FC Honka's youth system. He came through the youth system last season, and was immediately involved in senior action. He scored a goal on his debut, and made a total of five appearances in his debut season last term.

His pace and crossing ability made him a very creative player on the left side of Honka's attack. Masalin was already demonstrating his leadership qualities and was earmarked as a potential captain in the future.

Previous Update: #21 - Dhanda: Honka Players Like Family
Next Update: #23 - Season 2026: January - March Review
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6 yearsEdited

Season 2026: January - March Review

An Overview Of FC Honka Espoo In January - March 2026

Sami Heikkinen: A very successful year of 2025 had given us plenty to celebrate. As European and world champions, we knew that our recent successes would be difficult to follow up, However, we were fully confident that we could start 2026 with a bang.


Yannick Dipita Departed For Liverpool And Premier League Football

Major Transfers Out
(Name - Age - Position - Fee - Signed For)

Yannick Dipita - 19 (19/08/2006) - AMC/AMR - €3,000,000 - Liverpool
Since joining from Coton Sport of Cameroon, Yannick Dipita failed to make an impact at FC Honka, He made just four appearances since joining in 2024, The Cameroonian attacking midfielder was well sought after by some of Europe's big clubs, and Liverpool took him to England for a reasonable fee, which became our record sale.
Other Transfers
A number our youth players left the club in search of football which we could not provide for them. The high profile players who left, did leave on loan to clubs all over Europe, to build up senior experience.


FC Honka Started The Season In Incredible Style

6-0 Win vs JJK (H) - 21/01/2026
Suomen Cup Group A
Tapiolan urheilupuisto | Attendance: 2,305
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Senior; Gonçalves, Radovanovic, Yevgrafov, Obradovic; Chlumecky (47'), Locatelli; Libramento , Hilska (64'), Tuomi (64'); Pohjanpalo
Subs Used: Karlsson x2 (47'), Dhanda (64'), Masalin (64')

2-0 Win vs PKKU (A) - 28/01/2026
Suomen Cup Group A
Kalevan urheilupuisto | Attendance: 479
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Axberg; Rosier, Punzi, Cordero, Markovic; Chlumecky, Kalrsson (46'); Dhanda (73'), Coric, Hostikka; Sverrisson (46')
Subs Used: Yaghoubi (46'), Roschier (46'), Libramento (73')

7-1 Win vs Klubi-04 (A) - 03/02/2026
Suomen Cup Group A
Töölön jalkapallostadion | Attendance: 1,494
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Senior; Gonçalves, Radovanovic (54'), Yevgrafov x2, Obradovic; Chlumecky (67'), Jansson; Dhanda, Hilska (60'), Tuomi ; Sverrisson x3
Subs Used: Punzi (54'), Coric (60'), Locatelli (67')

1-1 Draw vs HJK (A) - 11/02/2026
Suomen Cup Group A
Töölön jalkapallostadion | Attendance: 3,637
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Axberg; Gonçalves, Radovanovic, Yevgrafov, Obradovic; Chlumecky, Jansson (53'); Dhanda, Hilska (77'), Tuomi ; Pohjanpalo (53')
Subs Used: Karlsson (53'), Sverrisson (53'), Libramento (77')

2-0 Win vs Lille (H) - 24/02/2026
UEFA Champions League Last 16 Leg 1
uTöölön jalkapallostadion | Attendance: 10,158
Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Senior; Radovanovic, Punzi, Yevgrafov; Gonçalves, Chlumecky, Locatelli (58'), Obradovic; Dhanda , Hilska (69'); Sverrisson (58')
Subs Used: Karlsson (58'), Pohjanpalo (58'), Coric (69')

3-1 Win vs GBK Kokkola (H) - 04/03/2026
Suomen Cup Group A
Tapiolan urheilupuisto | Attendance: 2,235
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Axberg; Rosier, Punzi , Cordero, Markovic; Jansson (55'), Locatelli (55'); Libramento, Coric, Masalin (13'); Roschier
Subs Used: Hostikka (13'), Yaghoubi (55'), Karlsson (55')

0-1 Defeat (2-1 Aggregate Win) vs Lille (A) - 18/03/2026
UEFA Champions League Last Sixteen Leg 2
Stade Pierre Mauroy | Attendance: 44,024
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Senior; Gonçalves, Radovanovic, Yevgrafov, Markovic; Chlumecky, Jansson; Libramento (55'), Hilska (55'), Tuomi; Sverrisson (46')
Subs Used: Pohjanpalo (46'), Punzi (55'), Coric (55')

Player of the Month

Evgeny Yevgrafov Was FC Honka's Star Performer Of January - March 2026

The Russian defender was in top form at the start of the 2026 season, scoring twice in the process. He was really fitting in to his role in defence, and made an unbreakable partnership with Astrit Radovanovic.


FC Honka Were Favourites To Win The Veikkausliiga

We were massive favourites to win the league title. Media were expecting the league to be a stroll in the park for us, and we were ready to deliver.

UEFA Champions League

FC Honka Would Play Manchester City In The Quarter Finals

Manchester City would be our opponents in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Of the remaining teams, we got probably the toughest. No Spanish teams remained as Bayern Munich were to face Borussia Dortmund in an all-German clash, Manchester United were to face Liverpool, and Zenit were to face Arseanal.


Honka Made A Steady Profit In The Opening Quarter Of 2026

Champions League prize money saw us make a comfortable profit in the opening quarter of 2026. While our wage expenditure was consistently on the rise, the Champions League prize money more than covered that.

Upcoming Fixtures

Manchester City Would Be Honka's First Opponents Of April

We would open our account for April with a Champions League fixture against Manchester City. We were expected to be beaten. Meanwhile, our Veikkausliiga campaign would start with a trip to FC Ilves. A Suomen Cup quarter final would also await us in a busy month.

Previous Update: #22 - Honka's Talent Factory
Next Update: #24 - Honka Held In Helsinki Thriller
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6 yearsEdited

Honka Held In Helsinki Thriller

Manchester City Held FC Honka To A 3-3 Draw At Töölön jalkapallostadion


The UEFA Champions League quarter finals brought an absolute thriller as reigning champions FC Honka Espoo of Finland were held to an outstanding 3-3 draw at home to English powerhouse Manchester City in the first leg. The game was played at HJK's Töölön jalkapallostadion, with FC Honka's ground too small to host the fixture. Lasse Pohjanpalo bagged a hat trick for the hosts, but it proved to be not enough as André Silva scored an injury time equaliser for the visitors.

3-3 Draw vs Manchester City (H) - 08/04/2026
UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg 1
Töölön jalkapallostadion | Attendance: 10,158

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Senior; Gonçalves, Radovanovic, Yevgrafov, Obradovic; Chlumecky, Jansson (65'); Dhanda, Hilska (65'), Tuomi; Pohjanpalo x3
Subs Used: Locatelli (65'), Coric (65')

Two of Europe's heavyweights clashed in a highly-anticipated fixture. Goals were expected, with both sides possessing lethal attacks. The 'fab four' of Dhanda, Hilska, Tuomi and Pohjanpalo started in attack for FC Honka, while Manchester City had the ever-dangerous Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé and Bernardo Silva in their ranks.

The start of the game was fast and furious, with both teams rampaging forward at electric pace in search of the opening goal. It would go Honka's way in the eighth minute, as Carlos Gonçalves won the ball back in his own half before lofting a through ball in to the path of the speeding Yan Dhanda on the right wing. The English attacker cut back for an unmarked Lasse Pohjanpalo in the penalty area, who squeezed his first time shot past Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Manchester City goal. Advantage FC Honka.

Manchester City were not content with the early deficit, and almost immediately made amends. Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé combined in attack, with the latter picking out William in the box with a clever pass, and the Brazilian playmaker made no mistake in finishing high in to the roof of the net, securing a priceless away goal for the 'Cityzens'.

The game failed to lose its frantic pace, with both teams surging forward at every opportunity. Midway through the first half, FC Honka were rewarded for continuously getting the ball in to the penalty box. Astrit Radovanovic had traveled forward for a free kick, and he was illegally bundled to the ground by City defender Benjamin Henrichs. Up stepped Lasse Pohjanpalo, and the 'Flying Finn' doubled his tally for the game, regaining Honka's lead in the process.

Kylian Mbappé looked to restore parity in the game minutes later with an ambitious long range effort, but saw the ball creep narrowly wide of the post. It was a sign that the game was, perhaps, swinging in FC Honka's favour.

Honka capitalised on their momentum with ten minutes to go until half time. Ludvig Jansson played Juha Tuomi in to space on the left wing, and he picked out Lasse Pohjanpalo in the box. Honka's number twenty-nine struck the ball first-time beyond Donnarumma to net his hat trick, and to send the Honka fans in to raptures. Honka were two goals clear.

The goal was, perhaps, the wake up call which Manchester City needed, and they clawed back a goal before half time. Kylian Mbappé surged down the left wing, and fired a low ball across Honka's six yard box. Bernardo Silva was on hand to score a tap in, and bring the Cityzens right back in to the contest.

Honka continued to push for more goals in the second half, and Pohjanpalo nearly had his fourth. Honka's midfield players worked the ball well to Bjarne Hilska on the edge of City's penalty box, and he teed up Pohjanpalo to fire a powerful low drive at goal, but Donnarumma was equal to the effort, tipping it away for a corner to the hosts.

The Italian goalkeeper certainly kept the visitors in the game, as he pulled off a fantastic stop to deny Yan Dhanda from close range, and then parried Astrit Radovanovic's header away from the resulting corner. It was all Donnarumma versus Honka.

In a rare Manchester City attack in the second half, John Stones picked out Kylian Mbappé unmarked in the box with a perfect cross, but the Frenchman could only find the crossbar with a powerful header, reminding FC Honka of the significant talent which Manchester City possessed.

Honka responded with immediately launching a scathing counter attack, which resulted in Yan Dhanda breaking through on goal. However, Donnarumma (fuck you Donnarumma!!!) kept the Englishman's shot out with an excellent reaction stop from close range.

Donnarumma, once again (!!!!!), came to City's rescue with less than five minutes to go. A deep cross from Jan Chlumecky was taken down well by Hilska, who teed up Tuomi for a half-volley from six yards out. The volley was struck well and through, but Donnarumma (somehow) tipped the effort on to the post, and out of play. It was a game-defining moment.

Deep in to stoppage time, Manchester City had one more attack in their system, and they made the most of it. Bernardo Silva's driven cross just about missed the head of the onrushing Franck Kessié, but fell perfectly in to the path of André Silva, who buried an unexpected equaliser.

It was a game which Honka may have felt hard-done by, having created better goal scoring chances, but Donnarumma was truly superb and proved his worth once more.

Lasse Pohjanpalo (FC Honka Espoo) - 9.4/10

Previous Update: #23 - Season 2026: January - March Review
Next Update: #25 - Honka Eliminated By Away Goal Difference
You've built something special at Honka, if only I knew how you do it
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6 yearsEdited

Honka Eliminated By Away Goal Difference

A 0-0 Draw At The Etihad Meant Manchester City Progressed By Away Goals


A frustrating evening in Manchester saw FC Honka Espoo unable to break down a determined Manchester City defence, as a 0-0 draw was enough to see the Cityzens progress to the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League. A professional defensive performance by the English powerhouse was enough for progression beyond the reigning champions.

0-0 Draw (3-3a Aggregate Defeat) vs Manchester City (A) - 14/04/2026
UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg 2
Etihad Stadium | Attendance: 52,385

Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Senior; Radovanovic, Punzi, Yevgrafov, Gonçalves (84'), Chlumecky, Jansson, Obradovic; Dhanda, Hilska (84'); Pohjanpalo (68')
Subs Used: Sverrisson (68'), Rosier (84'), Coric (84')

Following a thrilling 3-3 draw in Helsinki in the previous week, Manchester City knew they only required a draw and less than three goals conceded to progress. And while they picked a similar attacking side to the first leg, their mentality from the offset was very much on defence first, counter attacking at any opportunity.

Honka pushed for an away goal very early on, and Andrea Punzi very nearly snatched it in the fifth minute of play. Bjarne Hilska whipped in a fantastic wide free kick which eluded City's defence as it found an unmarked Andrea Punzi deep in City's penalty box. The Italian defender fired a low half-volley, which was blocked off the line by the outstretched leg of Franck Kessié.

City nearly broke the deadlock themselves midway through the first half as the ball broke for Kevin De Bruyne in Honka's area, as a result of a corner. The Belgian hit a low driven effort which was tipped away by Micky Senior, and Franck Kessié's follow-up could only find the side netting.

The first goal looked to have gone City's way with five minutes remaining from the first half. Honka had committed their entire team forward for a corner, and were caught out by a counter attack which saw Kylian Mbappé bare down on Honka's goal. He looked to curl an effort around Micky Senior from the edge of the box, but placed the ball a yard wide of goal.

The last major chance of the game fell Honka's way, as Yan Dhanda picked out Kristján Sverrisson on the right of City's penalty box. The Icelandic international took a touch to set himself before whizzing a shot just over City's bar.

The game burned out at 0-0, meaning Manchester City progressed to the semi finals on away goals. The reigning champions, FC Honka Espoo, had been eliminated.

John Stones (Manchester City) - 7.2/10

Comment Section

Aaron, patience is the key

Previous Update: #24 - Honka Held In Helsinki Thriller
Next Update: #26- Heikkinen Rues 'Outdated' Away Goals Rule

Heikkinen Rues 'Outdated' Away Goals Rule

Sami Heikkinen Was Critical Of The Away Goals Rule Which Saw Honka Eliminated


Sami, commiserations on your side's elimination from the Champions League. What is your reaction to the result?

Sami Heikkinen: "I'm obviously disappointed that we are out of the Champions League. It is a competition we all absolutely love being a part of and now we have to wait a long five months to be involved in it again. It isn't a nice feeling.

I cannot fault my players at all. They were thoroughly professional and worked so very hard to find a way to progress. It isn't like we lost either game, we were just as deserving as Manchester City to progress. We matched them in both battles, but we just could not find a way to better them."

It was, as you said, an even scoreline in both fixtures. Away goals was your downfall, is this a rule that you might feel is an unfair way of separating teams?

Sami Heikkinen:"Yes, absolutely. How could it possibly be a fair way to separate teams at all? It encourages teams to be more cautious at home, so as you don't concede goals, and only really go all-out away from home, if you need to score there. That's not why we play football. The fans don't want to see teams parking ten players behind the ball at home. It is an out-dated rule which needs changing, because it doesn't separate teams for their performances. Should the venue really decide who goes through or not? We've never played a European game at our actual home ground, due to capacity regulations, so perhaps all of our goals should count as away goals!

I don't wish to criticise Manchester City for this. As I said before, we were both evenly matched, and we both deserved to progress to the semi finals, by merit of the two results. I just don't think the rule is fair."

For a squad as young as yours to consistently go toe-to-toe with Europe's top clubs, and come out on top regularly, you must be very proud of your players?

Sami Heikkinen: "Absolutely, yes. They may be young, but they have plenty of experience and quality between them. The majority of these players have been a part of our senior squad for a number of years, and the others have been heavily involved too. They already have the experience of a team that you would expect to be maybe five or six years older, so that is great.

They can go a long way, these players. They've already won one Champions League title, and could win plenty more before their careers come to an end. They've already achieved incredible things, and could become true legends of the game."

In recent years, especially following that Champions League win, your side's wage structure has changed significantly. Is this something that will continue to occur?

Sami Heikkinen: "It is something we take great care of, and every change we make is heavily considered and drawn out in the board room. The more successful we become, the more we spend on wages. Players want the best possible lives for themselves and their families so if they deserve the wages they ask for, they get them.

We are not capable of paying players half a million per week, but we can offer players a very good salary. Our success in Europe has seen the club grow in stature and financially, and the wages we can offer players will continue to rise with our success."

Lasse Pohjanpalo, a player from Honka's very own academy, scored a hat trick in the first leg. Micky Senior started both games in goal, while Thomas Axberg is set to break Honka's appearance record soon, both from the academy as well. How bright is the future of Finnish football, with these players from your academy?

Sami Heikkinen: "A number of these players could play for almost any club in the world. They are fantastic. It is not only these three players that you mentioned either, we have a number of players out on loan too. Vesa Lagerblom and Aleksi Tiainen are doing very well at the minute. Of course, Sami Kosonen left our club permanently a few years ago in search of regular football, and now plays for both HJK and Finland. The future is bright, that's for certain."

Previous Update: #25 - Honka Eliminated By Away Goal Difference
Next Update: Coming Soon....
Sorry but rules are rules


You might have guess this already (judging by the lack of activity on this story in recent days), but I have had to take a slight step back from writing this. From the beginning date of writing this story, up until the day of the last update, I had played exactly 0 hours of FM. Writing updates had taken all of my time.

I cannot let that continue. I have ambitions to play beyond 2040 in game, and that would not be possible with a story. So, I plan to return to posting season reviews, and possibly biseasonal squad overviews, to facilitate my desire for playing this game.

Apologies to those who may have been enjoying the more in-depth style, but this is not the end of Sami Heikkine's adventure! It still goes on!

You are reading "Sami Heikkinen: The Winter Soldier".

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