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Panathinaikos aims for fourth at Final Four tournament in Athens May 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Basketball.

Athens club hopes to build on past Euroleague glory at Final Four tournament in Athens

Panathinaikos goes into the Euroleague’s Final Four tournament, beginning tonight in Athens at the Olympic Indoor Stadium, as the overwhelming favorite, with a fourth European crown in front of a fiery home crowd as the objective. The Athens club, which last won the trophy in 2002, will largely depend on a core of homegrown experienced players who form the backbone of the national team, the losing finalists in last year’s world championship.

The ease with which Panathinaikos qualified for the Final Four while maintaining an almost perfect record in the domestic league and winning the Greek Cup speaks volumes about their wealth of players and options from the bench. But coach Zeljko Obradovic has urged caution ahead of his team’s semifinal clash against Tau Ceramica today.

“Every team that goes into the Final Four has the same possibilities. That’s my experience, and I’m saying it after 10 Final Fours,” said Obradovic, who has won Europe’s top title a record five times as a coach. “There are no favorites. All four want to win, first the semifinal and after, if they make it, the final,” he told the Euroleague’s official website. Tau, who swept past Panathinaikos to reach last year’s Final Four, are hungry for the top prize after losing the 2005 final.

With the Euroleague’s all-time top scorer Luis Scola and single-season assists record-holder Pablo Prigioni in good shape, Tau’s third coach this season Bozidar Maljkovic, who led Panathinaikos to their first crown in 1996, knows his team’s chances are as good as they can ever be. With a 20-2 win-loss record in this season’s Euroleague, the Spaniards have shown they have what it takes to win.

Also today, last year’s champions CSKA Moscow, playing a record fifth consecutive Final Four, take on newcomers Unicaja Malaga of Spain for a place in Sunday’s final. Leading the domestic league and having won the Russian Cup, CSKA are eager to cap another successful season with the top accolades.

Unicaja, arguably the weakest of the four teams, have suffered a series of injury blows in the past few months, denting their chances of success but not their spirits. Their injury list includes starting center Daniel Santiago, out of the tournament due to a detached retina, and Marko Tusek, who has a sprained ankle.

The tournament features three coaches with 12 titles among them. Ettore Messina, CSKA Moscow’s Italian coach, is seeking his second straight and fourth title overall in Europe’s elite club competition, which starts today at the Athens Olympic Hall.

“I am wearing the same tie as last year,” Messina said. “We are very superstitious in Italy and Greece. But who knows? This could be my last day as champion of Europe.”

Obradovic of Panathinaikos has won five European titles with four different clubs. Boza Maljkovic, another Serb, is back at the Final Four after 11 years, this time with Tau Ceramica, and will be looking for his fifth title. The only coach without a Final Four championship is Unicaja’s Sergio Scariolo, another Italian. But he was the youngest coach to reach the Final Four at the age 30, 16 years ago, then at Scavolini Pesaro.

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