Who are Derry City’s Europa Conference League opponents KuPS?

The Woodlands in Koupio, Finland

The Woodlands in Koupio, Finland Credit: None

Derry City play KuPS from Finland in the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on Thursday July 27th with a 19.45 kick off.

So who are KuPS?

Kuopion Palloseura, or KuPS, is a Finnish Club who play in the Premier League, or Veikkausliiga, in Finland.

They celebrate 100 years in existence this year having been founded in the Finnish town of Kuopio in 1923.

Two thirds of the current squad of players are Finnish natives, but they do have a strong sprinkling of players from Africa also, including players from Kenya, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

47- year-old Jani Honkavaara is the manager of KuPS and is in his second spell at the club.

He managed the team from 2017 to 2019 and won the Premier League title with them in 2019, the first time in 43 years KuPS had topped the league table.

He returned to manage his home town team SJK in 2020-21 but returned as Head Coach of KuPS at the start of this season.

Their nickname, not very original is has to be said, is the Yellow- blacks, as their home strip is yellow jerseys and black shorts, similar to Derry City’s away strip.

Where do they play?

The club plays its home game in the Kuopio Football stadium which is a multi-use stadium in Kuopio. Kuopio incidentally is a small city in central Finland, about 390 Km from Helsinki.

KuPS ground share with another Finnish team, Pallokissat, and the stadium itself has a 5,000 capacity, 3,000 of which are seated.

They have an average home attendance this season of 2,860 spectators.

Their playing surface is an artificial turf, something Derry City will be well familiar with as their own Brandywell stadium is also an all-weather pitch.

What European pedigree do KuPS have?

KuPS have appeared in various UEFA competitions on 53 occasions so have lots of experience of performing on the European stage.

They have qualified for Europe every year since 2018 and have appeared in the Europa Conference League in the last two seasons 2021/22 and 2022/23.

They got through the first three qualifying rounds in 2021/22 before losing 4-0 to Union Berlin of German at the playoff stages.

KuPS have never played a side from Ireland, north or south, in any of their previous 53 fixtures.

How did they fare last season?

They reached the final of the Finland Cup last season and beat FC Inter by 1 -0, an 88th minute goal by Gabriel Bispo (see below) proving to be the difference between the two sides.

They finished second in the league, accumulating 57 points in the 22-game competition, two points behind winners HJK Helsinki.

In the 2022 Europa Conference League they accounted for Dila Gori of Georgia by 2-0 in the first round and overcame Milsami Orhei of Moldova 6-3 in the second round

They finally exited at the third-round stage when they were well beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Young Boys from Switzerland.

What has been their route to Europe?

KuPS qualified for the Europa Qualifying League by finishing second in their domestic league last season.

They scored 36 goals in the league last season with Tim Vayrynen their leading scorer on 11 goals.

Who to watch out for?

Gabriel Bispo is a 26-year-old Brazilian who plays in central midfield for KuPS.

He came to Finland in January 2022 having previously played for a number of Brazilian clubs, most recently Vitória.

He has started in a central midfield role for the team in 14 of their 17 games played so far this season and is a very combative force in the middle third. He has one goal, two assists and six yellow cards on his record in the 2023 season.

What are KuPS’s recent results?

KuPS currently lies second in the Veikkausliiga, only three points behind leaders SJK, albeit with an extra game played.

They are one point ahead of third placed HJK Helsinki, the team which recently eliminated Larne from the Champions League.

They have won two, lost two and drawn once in their last five league games.

When will the second leg of the tie be played?

The second leg will be played in Finland on Thursday August 3rd in the Kuopio Football stadium with a 5 pm kick off time.

The winners of this second qualifying round tie will then be paired with the winners of the FC Basel 1893 (Switzerland) versus FC Tobol Kostanay (Kazakhstan) tie in the third qualifying round.