Weekend Sports Round-Up: Lions mauled by Great Danes
Jari-Matti Latvala wins New Zealand Rally, Pyrintö take Finnish basketball title, and Finns crushed by South Africa in Davis Cup
The headline might seem a little colourful, but what can one say when the Finnish national ice hockey team opened their campaign at the IIHF World Championships in Germany with a humiliating and fully deserved 4-1 defeat at the hands of Denmark?
The Danes were clearly up for it on Saturday night - the Finns not so.
Two goals in the first five minutes of the opening period set the tone for what was to come.
Petri Kontiola got a goal back for Finland within ninety seconds of the whirlwind Danish start, but that was as close as the Finnish Lions got as a further goal in the second period and one into an empty net right at the death produced a spectacular Danish upset, and brought some worried frowns to the Finnish camp.
It is of no real consequence that the Finns outshot the opposition by 36-13 in the match as a whole, unless one notes it merely to raise a hat to the Danish goalie Frederik Andersen, who had an outstanding game.
Nevertheless, Finland were beaten by a team, and not by an individual. Denmark were quite simply the better outfit.
The Danes have never before even managed a draw against Finland in nine previous encounters, but by winning on Saturday they gave themselves a chance of progressing to the next stage of the competition as one of the top three teams in the four-nation group.
The Finns will have to face hosts Germany in front of a full house in Cologne tonight, knowing that even if they win this match there is still no certainty that they will go forward to the next phase of the tournament.
Germany beat Team USA 2-1 in overtime in the first match of the tournament, played on Friday in the Schalke 04 football stadium in Gelsenkirchen in front of a world record ice hockey crowd of 78,000.
Team USA play Denmark earlier this evening, and if they win, Finland's mountain to climb will get just a little bit higher, as they then will know they simply cannot lose to Germany, or they will automatically be down at the bottom of the group and heading for the ignominy of the relegation rounds.
Denmark currently have three points, Germany two, the USA one, and Finland none.
If Finland do beat the Germans but then lose to the United States, Denmark would still sail past them because of their win, meaning that the Finns would have to pray that Denmark cause another upset and beat the German hosts to spare their blushes and leave Germany with two points at the bottom of the pile.
Of course, two straight wins for the Finnish team would right the ship and the embarrassing performance against the Danes could be quietly forgotten, but there is not much scope for error, and morale is unlikely to be very high in the Finnish dressing-room...
It is hardly the sort of start that Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen or his captain Sami Kapanen had in mind when they headed into the tournament.
Things were a lot brighter for the basketball players of Pyrintö from Tampere as another domestic competition came to its conclusion at the weekend.
Pyrintö claimed the Finnish championship title and the Panther Trophy when they won the fifth and decisive final against ToPo from Helsinki by 77 points to 61.
Pyrintö had been up against the wall in the fourth final in Helsinki on Thursday, but they came though 93-85 to level matters at 2-2 and take the competition to a final showdown on their home court.
They made a strong start and never looked back, and the last match was arguably the most one-sided of any of the five finals.
It was a first-ever title for the Tampere side, who have been beaten finalists on four occasions and were the bronze medallists last season.
For Torpan Pojat or ToPo, the disappointment was all the greater that they let slip a 2-1 advantage and the chance to wrap up a tenth championship title in front of their own fans.
Pyrintö were deserved winners in the end, and franked the form that they had shown by heading the regular season table (based on 34 matches played)ahead of Kouvot from Kouvola, with ToPo in third.
Kouvot, knocked out by ToPo in the semi-finals, eventually took the bronze medals with a win over KTP-Basket of Kotka.
WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
In the New Zealand Rally, which ended on Sunday, Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) and his co-driver Miikka Anttila sprang a surprise at the end of one of the most exciting rallies for some years, overtaking Sebastien Ogier (Citroen) and World Champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) on the final stage after they both had an excursion off the track.
In Ogier's case it came agonisingly close to the finish line and deprived him of a first-ever WRC victory.
Norway's Petteri Solberg (Citroen) was also in with a shout in the closing stages, but he, too, crashed out and was forced to retire.
When the dust had settled, Latvala - who began the 21st and final stage in 3rd place - found to his amazement that he had a 2.4 second advantage over Ogier, with Loeb a further 13 seconds back, and with his Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen in fourth.
The win was 25-year-old Latvala's third, and it was also a milestone for the Ford team.
It was their 75th WRC victory since the championship was founded in 1973. In winning in New Zealand, Ford broke the existing record of 74 victories held by Lancia since 1992.
Ford has taken the manufacturers' world title in 1979, 2006 and 2007 and the drivers' championship crown in 1979 and 1981.
On a more immediate level, Latvala's win breaks a three-rally streak by Peugeot and Sebastien Loeb after Mikko Hirvonen took the first event of the 2010 season in Sweden.
It also hoists Ford back into the reckoning for the manufacturers' title, as they are now just five points behind Peugeot's total of 156.
Latvala himself has 72 points and is in 2nd place in the drivers' rankings behind Loeb (108) but eight points ahead of Hirvonen, the official #1 in the Ford team.
Former Formula 1 World Champion and WRC rookie Kimi Räikkönen is currently in 10th place with 14 points.
Räikkönen, who is driving this season for the Citroen Junior Team, did not take part in the New Zealand Rally, but he will be back in the saddle with the others when the WRC circus moves on to Portugal at the end of May.
Finland's Davis Cup tie against South Africa in the competition's Europe/Africa Zone could hardly have gone much worse than it did.
In the end the Finns were wiped out 5-0, with the fifth and final match being called off altogether owing to an injury to the Finnish number one Jarkko Nieminen.
It was all totally academic by then in any case, since the Finns had lost both of the singles matches on Friday and the doubles on Saturday to go 3-0 down in the best-of-five event.
In Friday's singles it was no great shock that Harri Heliövaara (ranked 495th on the ATP lists) should lose in four sets to Izak van der Merwe (ATP 217), but the five-set defeat of Nieminen (ATP 69) at the hands of the South African No.2 Rik De Voest (ATP 291) was a definite upset.
Nieminen and Heliövaara then lost to the pairing of De Voest and Wesley Moodie in straight sets on Saturday to hand the rubber to the South Africans.
The Finns basically suffered a series of unfortunate accidents: firstly Jarkko Nieminen's original team partner Henri Kontinen (who had helped Finland ease past Poland in the last Davis Cup match) twisted his ankle in the gym and could take no part in the proceedings, meaning Heliövaara stepped up at the last minute to take his place.
Then on the final day Heliövaara himself was ruled out with a high temperature, and Jarkko Nieminen also had to withdraw because of blisters on his feet. Nieminen's match was ultimately recorded for posterity as a walkover victory by Rik De Voest over Harri Heliövaara.
In the reverse singles on Sunday, Finland's one and only match-fit competitor was Timo Nieminen, and he went down 6-3, 6-4 to Raven Klaasen.
The up side of a not very inspiring result is that Finland had already done enough by beating Poland in March to ensure they will remain in the Europe/Africa Group 1 next year.
Still, there had been hopes that a full-strength Finnish team could have challenged for a place in the next echelon up, the play-offs for the World Group.
Now South Africa will go forward to this, in which 16 countries meet in September to determine eight World Group places for next year. Austria, Italy, and romania also progressed from the Europe/Africa Zone.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish ice hockey squad travels to World Championships in Germany tomorrow (4.5.2010)
Henri Kontinen digs deep to bring home Davis Cup tie (8.3.2010)
IIHF World Championships (Wikipedia)
World Rally Championship
2010 WRC (Wikipedia)
Davis Cup South Africa v. Finland