Russians Given Heroes Welcome

18.09.2007

Russian first-deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov has paid tribute to the Russian basketball team following their remarkable last-gasp victory over hosts Spain in the final of the European Championships on Sunday.

Ivanov, considered a possible successor to president Vladimir Putin, welcomed the players to the Russian Government House in Moscow.

"Few in Russia believed you would win, which makes your victory twice as significant," Mr Ivanov told the players.

"You had little time to prepare. To beat the world champions is worth everything. You played excellently in defence, you fought and you endured. And for that - a huge thank you."

Mr Ivanov also acknowledged the work done by coach David Blatt in creating a unified team, saying that the players were "one for all and all for one".

The Russian basketball team returned home to a heroes' welcome on Monday evening.

The players, each donning their gold medals, were greeted by applause, cheers and the singing of patriotic songs as they arrived at Moscow's Domodedevo airport to be met by their wives and girlfriends, each holding bunches of roses, and also by a jubilant sea of fans and journalists.

"What we have done is historic," announced team manager Sergei Tarakanov at the welcome ceremony.

"I am sure the lads will remember this for the rest of their lives and will provide them with warm recollections throughout their careers.

"I want to congratulate everybody who played a part in our victory and helped us to win.

"But the main words, of course, I reserve for the players, who have shown that Russian basketball is very strong

"We are the best national team of today, the best in Europe. We beat the World and European champions."

The gloss was taken off the occasion slightly by the absence of JR Holden and trainer David Blatt, who have both returned home to America, whilst team captain and player of the tournament Andrei Kirilenko flew to Moscow earlier in the day.


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