Haka hitman to face Fulham

Tuesday 9 July 2002

Whilst FC Haka had the advantage of match-fitness on their side for last Saturday's Intertoto clash at Craven Cottage, they were missing one vital component.

Star-striker Valeri Popovitch didn't travel with Olli Huttunen's squad due to a Bergkamp-esque fear of flying. However, he is expected to be available for selection for the second leg.

With Haka opting to play a counter-attacking system last Saturday, target-man Peter Kovacs was often left isolated up front.

Popovitch will certainly give Haka's front line more of a cutting edge, as manager Huttunen explained.

"We will have our top goal scorer Valeri Popovitch back. Over the last four or five years he has been the best player in Finland.

"Sometimes we play Popovitch instead of Kovacs but in this type of game we will need to play them both. Popovitch can play in attack but he can also play in midfield.

"It's important to this team when Popovitch plays. He can score goals but he can also create goals. What is most important is he can keep the ball which was a big problem for us against Fulham."

Certainly, Alain Goma and Andy Melville will have more to worry about with the Russian looking to resume his partnership with Kovacs. However, as Huttunen hinted, Popovitch's inclusion could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Fulham as Haka will be almost certainly be playing for the victory.

"We will have to change our tactics because we will need to score a goal," said Huttunen. "We played well against Fulham but anything can happen when we play at home. Of course, I know that we won't be able to keep the ball for 90 minutes against this kind of team but we can still win - it's possible but it's not easy."