Liverpool set for Finnish challenge

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The Independent Online

Liverpool will be playing the Finnish side Haka Valkeakoski in the Champions' League tomorrow, and not Israeli opposition.

The Anfield club had waited all day for the result of Maccabi Haifa's appeal to Uefa following their expulsion from the tournament last week for fielding a suspended player in their second qualifying round aggregate success over Haka, a result that was subsequently reversed by European football's disciplinary body.

Haifa had been represented at the hearing in Geneva by the lawyer Maurice Watkins, a Manchester United director, but they were unable to persuade Uefa to give them another chance. That means Liverpool will head to Helsinki today relieved that they have not had to make last-minute plans for a five-hour flight to Tel Aviv instead, and confidently believing that Haka will present a lesser challenge.

The Finnish internationals Sami Hyypia and Jari Litmanen will make the trip to their homeland hoping to do enough to ensure that Liverpool's Champions' League challenge remains firmly on track.

Hyypia has no doubts about the importance of the tie, and puts it well above next Sunday's encounter with Manchester United in the Charity Shield in Cardiff.

Hyypia said: "Qualifying for the Champions' League is more important to us than winning the Charity Shield. We take every game we play seriously but we have two very important European qualifying games to play now and they are the most important games on our minds."

Liverpool will almost certainly be without their Dutch goalkeeper Sander Westerveld at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. Pegguy Arphexad, who has deputised for Westerveld for the last three warm-up matches, is likely to retain his place against Haka.

Litmanen and Hyypia should be both assured of a great reception in Finland, where Litmanen is confident of victory. "It is sure to be a big thing for Haka as there is a lot of interest because of the connections with myself and Sami. But we are favourites and we would expect to win."

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