Europe's best to be crowned in final four in Istanbul

Europe's best to be crowned in final four in Istanbul

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Europes best to be crowned in final four in Istanbul

Players and coaches of the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four teams, officials from the competition and sponsors along with Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş (5R) attend a press conference at the Çırağan Palace in Istanbul prior to the tournament. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

After battling their way to Istanbul, four great teams will compete to be the greatest, as CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona Regal, Olympiacos Piraeus and defending champion Panathinaikos start the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four today.

The top team on the continent will be decided at the end of the three-day, four-game championship in Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dome, starting with today’s semifinals. CSKA Moscow will take on Panathinaikos, while FC Barcelona Regal will play Olympiacos Piraeus.

Judging by their season performances, CSKA Moscow and Barcelona Regal look like the favorites to win their semifinal games, but no teams can be underestimated in the Final Four. There are not many things that can be taken for granted during the Final Four weekend, but what’s certain is that it is going to be the biggest event in European basketball’s calendar this year, and will be highly competitive.

“The Final Four is growing every year. In TV distribution, this Final Four will reach 174 countries on five continents. And we will have 15,000 passionate fans at Sinan Erdem Arena,” Euroleague CEO and President Jordi Bertomeu said during yesterday’s press conference. “I hope all the teams have a successful weekend and I hope you all will have fun in Istanbul.”

Panathinaikos will have to overcome CSKA Moscow if it is to successfully defend its title. Guard Dimitris Diamantidis said that the team will give its best tonight for the win. “We are facing a formidable opponent in CSKA. I believe we will put 100 percent effort into winning,” Diamantidis said. “We lost the regular season games [against CSKA]. It didn’t work out well for us, but that is in the past and we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We will try hard to advance.”

Strong squad

CSKA Moscow has arguably the strongest line-up of all the teams in the Final Four, boasting the likes of Russian stars Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved and Viktor Khryapa, Serbian aces Milos Teodosic and Nenad Krstic, and Lithuanians Darjus Lavrinovic and Ramunas Siskauskas. However, Kirilenko, who chose to stay in Europe instead of returning to the Utah Jazz at the end of the NBA lockout, said that it will not be easy at all.

“The Euroleague is a great competition and the four best teams in Europe are playing this Final Four,” Kirilenko said. “It is going to be very tough to lift the trophy, but I think we did a pretty good job during the season and deserve to play here.”

CSKA Moscow’s path crossed with Istanbul twice this season, when the Russian trailblazers played against Anadolu Efes and Galatasaray Medical Park. Kirilenko admired the high level of intensity in those games, particularly for the fans.

“We had different experiences when we played in Turkey -- we beat Efes and lost against Galatasaray,” he said. “The fans were unbelievable and very passionate about basketball. I personally liked it even when they cheered against us. It is very nice to have people come to cheer that way.

When you play against a lot of fans, even if they are cheering against you, is always nice.”

Olympiacos has another tough job to do when it takes on Barcelona Regal, but the Greek side can rely on its experienced coach Dusan Ivkovic and a spirited team led by guard Vassilis Spanoulis as they chase their first European trophy since 1997.
“It was a tough road just to get here,” Spanoulis said. “This season I think we proved we belong here.

Our goal is to play well against a great team, Barcelona, that has all our respect, and to do our best to get to the final.”

Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual did not hide the fact that he is psyched for the game. “I am very even-tempered facing the competition. I am looking forward to it, waiting for the games to start as soon as possible, especially ours,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for our opponent, but we are ready for this game and I am sure it will go down to details.”