The first opponent of "Žalgiris" – a hundred-year-old club that surprised with a record of victories in Finland. © Conference League UEFA

On Thursday, "Žalgiris" will play their first UEFA Conference League qualification match as guests. In the first season in Europe, the Vilnius team will face the Finnish club VPS, which caused a sensation and improved their record last season.


The full name of the club based in Vaasa is "Vaasan Palloseura" (translated directly from Finnish - Vaasa Ball Club), usually referred to by the abbreviation VPS.

This year is special for VPS club - it celebrates its 100th anniversary. Over the century, the Vaasa team has had ups and downs. Between the wars, the club was the champion of Finland's leagues on multiple occasions, and immediately after World War II, they became the country's champions twice in a row.

The next successful period for the club had to wait for several decades - silver was won in 1997 and 1998. At that time, a young future Finnish national team goalkeeper, Jussi Jääskeläinen, who started his career at VPS, contributed significantly to the team's rise to success in England.

For several years, VPS struggled at the bottom, even falling to a lower division. The next bright spot came in 2013 - they finished in 3rd place among the elite teams. VPS has participated in UEFA tournaments 5 times. In their debut season, they managed to eliminate the team from the Faroe Islands (HB Torshavn), later losing to clubs from Austria, Scotland, and Sweden (twice).

The last attempt - in the 2017 season - was almost successful. VPS defeated Ljubljana's "Olimpija" team, then narrowly lost to "Brondby" in the second round (2-3), whom they defeated at home.


After the highs, there was another downturn - in 2019 and 2020, VPS had to play in the second division. With former Finnish national team defender Jussi Nuorela as the coach, Vaasa's team climbed back to the top league, solidified their position, and even surprised last year.

Similarly, last year, VPS was in last place, but from mid-July onwards, they won 16 out of 17 matches (including 12 wins in a row - a new league record), took 3rd place, and secured a spot in Europe. J. Nuorela was named coach of the year for this achievement.

This was achieved despite the fact that the team was only 10th in the league in terms of ball possession percentage.

The best player of the championship, who scored 17 goals, the striker from Nigeria Peter Michael, was signed by the Romanian club CFR Cluj after the season.

The impressive journey of VPS continued into this year - their 22-match unbeaten streak ended only in May. Such a successful start to the season meant that after 11 rounds, the team was at the top of the league table, tied on points with the other leader, KuPS.

Only in the last month, VPS's winning mechanism began to falter - they failed to win in the championship four times in a row, also exiting the Finnish Cup tournament. These results pushed the team to 5th place, but they are still only 3 points behind the trio of leaders.

Team Composition

VPS has 8 foreign players in their squad, with 6 of them playing important roles. Two-thirds of the squad are Finns, many of whom have spent their whole careers in their country's leagues.

In the current VPS team, Danish player Mads Borcher stands out. In 15 matches, he scored 9 goals and is the top scorer in the Finnish championship.

In attack, he often partners with Suriname national team player Gleofilo Vlijter, who has experience in Israeli and Cypriot leagues at the age of 24. He also carries the Hasselbaink surname - his family is related to the famous Dutch national team striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

In defense, the standout foreign player is 24-year-old Pedro Justiniano from Guinea-Bissau, who has previously played for the youth teams of Juventus and Porto, and in recent years tried his luck in the Polish and Romanian leagues. Alongside him in defense, 24-year-old Martti Haukioja and 27-year-old Mikko Pitkänen or 30-year-old Miika Niemi are regulars.

In midfield, for the third consecutive season without changes, 25-year-old Ghanaian Prosper Ahiabu partners with 26-year-old Finn Antti-Ville Räisänen. The attacking midfielder position is occupied by the experienced 33-year-old Russian Jevgenij Baškirovas, who has played in the Russian and Polish championships and was named the best midfielder in the championship last year.

On the wing in the first half of the season, Englishman Alfie Cicale shone, but later he missed two months due to injury and only recently returned to the lineup. In his absence, the team captain, 32-year-old Jesper Engström, who has been representing the Vaasa team since 2011, often played. Also a regular is 26-year-old Finn Sami Alanko.

There is also a familiar name for Lithuanian football fans in the VPS squad - Peter Eletu, who played for Kėdainiai's "Nevėžis" in 2021. However, the defender from Nigeria has not yet had a chance in the Finnish club.

The first match between VPS and "Žalgiris" will take place on July 11th, Thursday, from 8 pm in Vaasa. The match broadcast can be watched online on the VPS website.

The return leg will be played a week later, on July 18th, in Vilnius.


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