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Playing against my hero
HJK – JJK 1-1
Lahti – HJK 1-2
There we were… last ones in the line to go to the pitch. Compared to young blood and springy steps before us we could have as well been in a glass vitrine in a sports museum. He is a legend, the king of Finnish football; I am just an average blond midfielder who has also played for the national team. We have played together in a same midfield ten years for the national team, but never before against each other.
Jari Litmanen is a special player who has made special things, his name is cemented in the history of football. He was my childhood hero and the first ever Finnish player to reach my football Wall of Fame. While I was in the military I used all my money and holidays to travel watching him to play Champions League –final in Rome. It was worth it. Some of my proudest moments have been pulling the Finland shirt with the likes of him. I have the maximum respect for him.
On the pitch there are no heroes or friends, though. We are both far from our prime and with severe injuries slowing us down over many years already. But without hesitation I can say we still both deliver for our teams. I didn’t particularly like the idea of playing against him… first because he is a good player and second because I am not the nicest guy on the pitch to play against, and I am sure I have annoyed a good percentage of my opponents. It was a tense meeting and it wasn’t pretty, but we needed to win and we eventually did. When the final whistle is gone, the handshakes and text messages started flying around… the ones that have been long enough in the game know that the friendship starts the second when the game ends.
Ps. My goal against JJK is as Riihilahti –one as a goal can be. I am on my knees in a praying position and deflect a cross ball with inner thigh to open net. Classical Euro Goal.