July 25, 2023
Finnish champions HJK Helsinki and Norwegian champions Molde faced off in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round Tuesday, in Helsinki. The Finns came out on top, 1-0, through a 25th minute goal from Topi Keskinen.
HJK were the clear underdogs heading into Tuesday’s clash, having squeezed past Northern Irish minnows Larne FC after extra time, and having performed poorly in the Finnish domestic league of late. Meanwhile, Molde was a club on fire, having won their last four games and having scored a total of 12 goals in them.
The match started calmly, with Molde controlling posession, but HJK managing to repel the Norwegian attacks.
The face of the game changed in the 25th minute. Atom Tanaka seemed to clear the ball from the HJK box, but young striker Topi Keskinen destroyed Molde defender Benjamin Tiedemann in the sprint to the ball, calmly gathering the ball and expertly finish past the Molde keeper. 1-0 Helsinki.
The rest of the first half was fantastic for the hosts, as Molde looked rattled by the goal. HJK had a few chances to extend their lead, including an Atom Tanaka free kick which was stopped superbly by keeper Jakob Karlstrom.
Molde retook control of the game in the second half, but were unable to pose serious threats to the HJK defense, with the match ending 1-0 for the Finns.
It was a sovereign performance for HJK, which managed to contain the Norwegians superbly, and used its chance fantastically. Just recently appointed manager Toni Korkeakunnas praised his squad, calling the performance “perfect.”
Molde will have a lot to figure out if they hope to progress to the third qualifying round. The second leg is next Wednesday in Molde.