Finals begin, but who will play?

The best-of-five final series between AEK and Olympiakos for this season’s national basketball league title begins tonight, but for Olympiakos the encounter’s anxiety is already running high. During the day, a sports tribunal, which faces an 8 p.m. deadline, will announce its verdict on whether four key Olympiakos players will be allowed to take part. The tribunal has delayed reaching its decision which, ultimately, has intensified the confusion at Olympiakos regarding the lineup of its side tonight. The four players, guard and team captain Milan Tomic, guard Alphonso Ford, forward Stephane Risacher, and center Patrick Femerling, were all sent off after trouble erupted during a heated semifinal clash against Panathinaikos and could face suspension. The semifinal had been twice postponed after street-level violence by stone-throwing Olympiakos hooligans rose to administrative-level tension before finally spilling over onto the court. A request by the Olympiakos club for a one-day delay of the tribunal’s verdict on the four players was rejected by the tribunal earlier this week. According to the sport’s regulations, it has the right to announce verdicts even just before a game. With the nucleus of Olympiakos’s team left to the tribunal’s mercy, the selection task for tonight’s opening final match has developed into a sour ordeal for coach Slobodan Subotic. Feeling the pressure, he publically criticized the bedlam surrounding the play-off series, describing it as a «bordello.» «How can we talk about the finals when we don’t know who our players are going to be?» Subotic protested. Olympiakos declined accepting its allotment of 4,000 tickets, ostensibly in order to avoid clashes between fans. Nonetheless, AEK has the right to ask for its own allotment for Game 2, to be played at Olympiakos’s arena. Part of the trouble in Olympiakos’s trouble-marred semifinal series against old foe Panathinaikos was sparked when the Piraeus side demanded that visiting fans be banned from the second game at Olympiakos’s home ground, the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Faliron, citing security concerns. The first attempt to stage that match – which Olympiakos eventually won to take the best-of-three semifinal 2-0 – was postponed after stone-throwing Olympiakos hooligans ambushed the visiting Panathinaikos team’s bus on the team’s way to the stadium. Five players suffered slight injury from broken glass, while one culprit was traced and arrested by police after an eyewitness managed to memorize his motorbike’s licence plate during his getaway. Approximately 10 motorcyclists were seen abandoning the scene.