Panathinaikos and Olympiakos are entering the Euroleague play-offs this week as outsiders, as not only do they face the mighty CSKA Moscow and Barcelona respectively but their opponents have the home advantage in the best-of-five series.
First up is Game 1 of the CSKA vs Panathinaikos series in Moscow on Tuesday, with the Russians being the strong favorites for a spot in the Final Four. In a deja-vu of last year’s quarter-final match-up – that went to five games with CSKA earning the all-important ticket to the Final Four with a 3-2 score – the two teams know each other very well and should produce a close contest.
Given the home record of Panathinaikos, the Greens could win at least one game at home, but its away performances to date point to a near-certain qualification for the Russians. There is also additional spice from the presence of former Panathinaikos assistant coach Dimitris Itoudis as the CSKA coach.
“We do not care whether we win in Moscow, or return with a 2-0 or 0-2 score, or win it in the fifth game, as long as we make it to the Final Four,” said Panathinaikos’s Nikos Pappas. Game 2 will take place in Moscow on Thursday with Game 3 to follow in Athens next Monday.
Olympiakos enters the fray on Wednesday, traveling to Spain for Games 1 and 2 (on Friday) at Barcelona, with arguably a better chance of progressing than Panathinaikos. Boosted by the return of captain Vassilis Spanoulis, the Reds can upset the Catalans and grab the home advantage this week before returning home to seal qualification to the Final Four in Games 3 and (if needed) 4.
Barcelona has been far from its best in recent weeks and is just coming off a loss at the El Clasico against Real Madrid. It has been prone to upsets within 2015, so an Olympiakos win in Spain is not at all out of the question.
“If we are healthy and without absences we can make it,» said Olympiakos’s Ioannis Papapetrou.