Final Four: Former Maccabi coach Spahija loses to CSKA in semis

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, Spahija could not hide his disappointment.

Spahija 298.88 (photo credit: Allon Sinai [file])
Spahija 298.88
(photo credit: Allon Sinai [file])
Croatian coach Neven Spahija, who spent an unsuccessful year at Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, came close to proving his critics wrong in the second Euroleague semifinal on Friday, but ultimately his new side, Tau Vitoria, fell 83-79 to CSKA Moscow. The three-point shooting of Moscow's Ramunas Siskauskas in the closing seconds ensured that Vitoria would have to be satisfied with playing Montepaschi Siena for third place on Sunday. This was an extremely tight encounter throughout the first three quarters. Tau, the team from northern Spain, led by six at halftime (39-33). CSKA then came back and Spahija called a time out with the score at 44-44 midway through the third. But it didn't help and Moscow stayed ahead, moving to 50-46 with 5:30 of the third quarter on the clock. Although with 25 seconds left the lead was only four at 80-76, the Russians stayed ahead and booked their place in the championship game with Siskauskas landing two three-pointers in the final 6.5 seconds to confirm the win. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, Spahija could not hide his disappointment, considering how close his team came to pulling off a stunning upset of the tournament favorite. "It was very difficult for me," he said, while watching his team train for what he knows will essentially be a meaningless game on Sunday. "I really expected we could make that step. I knew it was going to be very difficult because they are the best team in Europe, but anyway, I think we played honestly and till the last moment. Sometimes it's not enough because the opponent is too good." Spahija stressed that he was proud of his players and the effort the team made. "I feel strong. I am a pretty strong person and I have passed through many things in my life and these things make me stronger. Like all Europe saw yesterday only one can win but I think Tau was also a good team yesterday and as a coach I feel proud." The coach had a difficult time at Maccabi last year, losing in the State Cup final to Hapoel Jerusalem and the Euroleague quarterfinals to Moscow. However, he still has a soft spot for his former employees. "I feel very emotional about my year in Tel Aviv and the people of Maccabi," he said. "I'm still friends with people there and I am waiting for the moment the season finishes and I can go and see all my friends there." Regarding the Israelis' success on Friday he added: "I'm happy for them and I really wish them all the best for tomorrow. They need to play much more consistently like you saw with our team. If you go minus 18 it's impossible against CSKA. They have to play like a team."