SPORTS

Fourth European title sought in Moscow

Three-time European basketball champion Panathinaikos travels to the Euroleague’s Final Four tournament in Moscow later this week in search of further continental glory. The Athens club, which was not heavily tipped by pundits for a place in this season’s Final Four, will meet defending champion Maccabi on Friday afternoon in the tournament’s first semifinal; immediately after, CSKA plays Tau Ceramica in the other semifinal. Both the final and consolation final for third place will be played on Sunday afternoon. Panathinaikos captain Fragiskos Alvertis will be making his seventh Final Four appearance, a record held exclusively by the 30-year-old player. Echoing the soothing words of the national soccer team’s coach Otto Rehhagel both ahead of and during last year’s Euro 2004, Alvertis noted that his prime objective would be to relax and enjoy every moment of this Final Four tournament. «As I have said to the Greek media, the most important thing for me now is to enjoy these days, from the moment we get to Moscow until we get back,» Alvertis told the Euroleague website. «The Final Four is a big celebration for European basketball, and the way to approach it is to enjoy it at all times. You play free, without stress, because there is no tomorrow, and you do what you have to do, fight, and that’s it. There is nothing else to do other than enjoy every second of it.»  Should his club triumph at the Final Four tournament, Alvertis would become only the 10th player ever to win a fourth European title. He was a member of all three Panathinaikos squads that brought home the European title, in 1996, 2000 and 2002. No player has won more than three European titles since 1980. Despite the prospect of embedding himself deeper into the record books, Alvertis remained reserved when asked if basketball history meant anything to him. «Of course, it means a lot. I consider it a challenge for me. I have had many opportunities before to win, and this time I will have the same. Every team has a 25 percent chance. It would be perfect to have four titles. If it happens, I would consider it a big deal,» Alvertis told the website. Making it to this season’s Final Four, Alvertis said, ranked as a more thrilling experience than usual. In the quarterfinal playoffs, Panathinaikos was pushed to a third game by Turkish club Efes Pilsen in their best-of-three encounter. The Athens club played the decider at home before a capacity home crowd of some 18,000 fans at its OAKA stadium. «We all wanted to beat them very badly. There were almost 20,000 people at the stadium. It was the first time I have ever seen so many people at a basketball game, so the atmosphere was unique,» Alvertis noted. The Greek club’s skipper pointed out that the numerous options available to coach Zeljko Obradovic on the Panathinaikos bench would bolster the team’s effort for a fourth European title. «Right now, Panathinaikos possesses 12 players able to play at any moment or any time during the game. We have many experienced players. We can do whatever we want on the court – play big or small. Yes, for me that’s an advantage we have,» said Alvertis. He described Friday’s opponent, Maccabi, as a strong side loaded with talent. «They are excellent on the attack and also have the experience of last year and other Final Four tournaments. It’s going to be a very difficult game for us, but also for them,» said Alvertis. «I think everyone can expect a hard-fought game.»