Earlier today, Celtic learned that they would face either Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi (better known as HJK) Helsinki or Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (also known as KR Reykjavik) in their first Champions League Qualifier this season.
Now, with respect to KR Reyjavik, HJK Helsinki are already seven-nil up from their first leg, so we are probably not pushing our luck too much to presume Celtic will face HJK. Last season, HJK won the Finnish Veikkausliga title for the third consecutive year, and they currently sit second in the table behind Inter Turku. The Finnish sides play summer football, and are therefore about half way through their season.
In saying this, whilst HJK defeated Reykjavik 7-0 in the first leg of their tie, the team from the Finnish capital city have not won any of their last five league matches, drawing three and losing two. In fact, they have not won a domestic match since the 16th of June.
However, they remain the most successful club in the history of Finnish football, having won the League Title 24 times, the Finnish Cup 11 times, and the Finnish League Cup 4 times.
UEFA’s club coefficient point ranking system (from last season) put HJK in 213th place in Europe, only a few places ahead of Hibernian, and some way behind Dundee United. A more recent version of the table, available on HJK’s Wikipedia page puts the club in 191st place, slightly behind Motherwell. However, it is clear that the table is more than a bit out of date on UEFA’s website, as it still puts Rangers ahead of Celtic, who were to be found in 63rd place. This is impressive, considering the Hoops are allegedly a better side than Borussia Dortmund, the back to back winners of the German Bundesliga. Going by this table, Metalist Kharkiv and Fulham are also better sides than Napoli, so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into this statistic.
All in all, HJK Helsinki have been the best side in Finland for some time, and whilst they haven’t been in the best of form of late, they are going to be fit and they are going to be determined. They can clearly score goals, and Celtic will have to play their opponents on an artificial surface in Helsinki. To underestimate them would be a critical error, and Celtic will have to perform well both home and away to assure their passage into the next round of Champions League qualifying. In saying this though, Celtic should (and I use the word “should” expressly in this instance) be capable of getting past the Finnish Champions.