Final Four: CSKA meets Barcelona with title repeat on the mind

Fierce rivals Olympiakos, Panathinaikos face off in all-Greek semifinal bout as Euroleague Final Four tips off in Berlin.

cska 88 (photo credit: )
cska 88
(photo credit: )
CSKA Moscow returns to the Euroleague Final Four hoping to snatch its second straight title in a tournament that also brings together two familiar Greek rivals. Friday's first semifinal in the German capital features CSKA against Barcelona, while the second showdown has Panathinaikos and Olympiakos facing off. The title match is Sunday. CSKA returns to the Final Four for the seventh straight time, with the Russian powerhouse looking for its seventh continental crown. Real Madrid is the most successful club with eight titles. CSKA coach Ettore Messina has won multiple Euroleague championships with different teams - taking the title in 1998 and 2001 with Kinder Bologna, and '06 and '08 with Moscow. "A lot of great teams didn't make it back the year after winning," said Messina, who has never lost in the Euroleague semifinals. "That is a great motivation." Moscow point guard J.R. Holden will be making his seventh consecutive Final Four with CSKA Moscow, while forward Ramunas Siskauskas can win his third straight Euroleague crown. Siskauskas was with Panathinaikos when it won in 2007. Barcelona, meanwhile, will be looking for its second Euroleague title after winning in 2003. Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual will rely heavily on guard Juan Carlos Navarro, former CSKA player David Andersen and emerging star Ersan Ilyasova. "So far we only have one single trophy in our roll of honors, but we aim to bring the second one home," said Pascual, who is in his first full season at the club. The other semifinal is likely to be a heated affair between Greek rivals, whose fans are known for clashing. Panathinaikos is back in the Final Four after missing a chance to defend its 2007 title. Coach Zeljko Obradovic has already won a record six titles with four different clubs - including three with Panathinaikos. "Greece as a country and Athens as a city have to be proud to put two teams in the top four on the continent," Obradovic said. "It's a game that everyone is waiting to see now. But we must remember, it's a Final Four and we are just two of the teams. "Yes, it's a rivalry, a derby and we know each other well. But we have to prepare like any game." The Serbian coaching legend has loads of talent, with the likes of Dimitris Diamantidis, Mike Batiste, three-time Euroleauge champion Sarunas Jasikevicius, Nikola Pekovic and Vassilis Spanoulis. Olympiakos is returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1999 and looking for its first title since 1997. After getting beaten in the quarterfinals the past three seasons, Olympiakos brought in a trio of winners in Theo Papaloukas, who guided CSKA to six straight Final Fours and two titles; Nikola Vujcic and Yotam Halperin, who both won two crowns with Maccabi Tel Aviv. "Our objective is to create a team that will have continuity and consequence - a team that will not only reach the top, but will remain there for lots of years," said Olympiakos coach Panagiotis Giannakis, who is in his first Euroleague season. "You cannot achieve that in one moment. It requires patience and persistence. Our team has already made the first step, but we still have a lot of ground to cover."