Maccabi Tel Aviv's route to the Euroleague Final Four was made slightly easier on Monday after the team was drawn in a relatively comfortable top-16 group.
Over the next six weeks the perennial Israeli champion, reigning Spanish league and ULEB Cup winner Real Madrid, Greek giant Olympiacos and Lithuanians Zalgiris Kaunas will play each other home and away in Group F, from which the top two teams will advance to the last eight.
"This isn't an easy group, and also the schedule of the games seems very tough, but we don't have any excuses," Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Tzvika Sherf told the Euroleague Web site. "This is the reality and we'll need to face it. There's nothing we can do about it. We start on the road against Olympiacos and they just changed coach so we'll need to see how that will that affect them. We'll give our best to make it to the quarterfinals."
Olympiacos, which hosts Maccabi on February 14 in the Israeli's first game of the top-16, fired Israeli Pini Gershon on Saturday and replaced him on Sunday with Greece's national team coach Panagiotis Giannakis. The 49-year-old Giannakis is a Greek legend after an illustrious playing career and has also had a successful coaching career to date, guiding Greece to the EuroBasket title in 2005 and to a silver medal at the 2006 World Championships.
Olympiacos finished the Euroleague's first stage with a 7-7 record and lost its last three games in the competition.
Real Madrid, which won its last five Euroleague games, was seeded first in the draw, after finishing the regular season as the best second placed team. Madrid (11-3) invested heavily in its roster over the summer with the aim of reaching the Final Four which will be played at the Spanish capital.
"It makes no difference who you play when you reach this level, because all the teams are strong," Madrid coach Juan Plaza said.
"In our group we have teams like Maccabi and Olympiacos who have more recent Final Four history than us. I am not worried about who I will play against but about who I will play with, because we have two serious injuries at center and we have to try to find a replacement for Venson Hamilton and Lazaros Papadopoulos as soon as we can to overcome this obstacle," he said.
Zalgiris (8-6), which lost two of its last three games in the competition, has a legendary status among the yellow-and-blue's supporters ever since Derrick Sharp's miracle three-pointer saw Maccabi advance to the 2004 Final Four in place of the Lithuanians.
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