By Yarone Arbel
The 2008 EuroCup Final Four is officially here. Tartu Rock, Barons LMT, Mons Dexia Hainut and host Proteas Eka AEL were presented in the opening press conference in Limassol, Cyprus.
"Welcome to Cyprus, the island of love and for the next four days the basketball capital of Europe," opened AEL's president, Michael Loizides.
"I had the privilege to be present in all the EuroCup Final Fours of FIBA-Europe and every time I went there, I was wondering when we'll be able to participate or to host such an event. It was a dream and now it's coming true in the best possible way, because we get to both play in it and host the event,"
|Proteas EKA AEL coach Charles Barton was on hand to talk about his teams chances.|
"AEL is a small club from a country which doesn't have a rich basketball tradition," he continued.
"In the past five years we improved a little year by year and for us it's very important. We want to have stability and not big success followed by big problems."
"I want to thank all the members of our club for their very hard work and dedication. Our thanks go also to FIBA Europe as well for giving us the opportunity to host this event."
After Loizides moved to thank to the president of the republic of Cyprus, the list of sponsors and specifically Asbis, the main sponsor of the event, he pointed at the people we all expect to see: "I would like to thank the teams, the players and the coaches who are here. They are the real stars of this event."
Mons-Hainaut's team manager, Theirry Wilquin, represented the Belgium side who wishes to bring a first European title to their country, but will have to beat the toughest opponent-AEL-in front of 7,000 fanatic fans in the second semi-finals at 20:00 CET.
"We're here to win," he started with a bold statement. "In any situation you meet a team as strong as AEL you have 50-50 chance to win."
"When you play them at home it turns to 75-25 in their favor," and the reason for that is clear for Wilquin.
"Their fans give them a big advantage."
AEL's head coach, Charles Barton, didn't fall in that trap and right away described how things look from his side of the fence.
"I saw Mons-Hainaut win in Samara to make it to the Final Four. Any team who beat Samara on the road can't be an underdog in any situation. All the teams who made it to this level have good coaches and players. I think every team has a 25% chance to win the title, and each team believes they will be the one to do it. We'll have to wait till Sunday night to see who was right."
"We're very happy we made it here, and we're very motivated. Everybody on the team know it's going to be tough, but we're fortunate we have it at home. The fans have been crazy, and gave us big support throughout the entire season. Hosting the Final Four is great for the country and for basketball here."
In the first semi-finals (17:30 CET) we'll have a Baltic clash when Estonian side Tartu Rock will take on Latvian neighbors Barons LMT.
Both teams have already met during this season in the Baltic league and Barons won both games, but after eliminating Samara and Ural Great on the way to the Final Four, the Estonian side has no fear.
Tartu's assistant coach, Indrek Visnapuu, shaded some lights on what's going on inside his team.
"We're very glad to be here. It has been a successful season for our team so far and we're hoping to keep up with the success here.
"We're very pleased to come to Cyprus - the island of Love. To our climate it's very warm here, and we have seen a very warm welcome as well so we have to try to show our gratitude"
Andris Vanags, general manager of Barons, focused on the present and the past when making his comments.
"Since the early 60's no Latvian team made it this far, and we have a chance to do it. We're happy to be here and are ready to compete."
Tomorrow at 17:30 the final event of the 2008 EuroCup season will tip off. Stay tuned and follow the action on fibaeurope.com.