At age 61, CSKA Moscow head coach Dusan Ivkovic is the most veteran Euroleague coach on the bench this season. He is also the most experienced one in Tel Aviv and the only returning coach from last year's Final Four. All told, this marks his fifth Final Four in 11 years with four different teams: PAOK in 1993, Olympiacos in 1997 and 1998, CSKA in 2003 and this season. His title with Olympiacos in 1997 keeps Ivkovic, always a direct, open-minded coach who says what he means, coming back for more. And in this second installment of Euroleague.net's Final Four head coaches interview series, Ivkovic sends a clear message: he doesn't want to wait until the 2005 Final Four in Moscow for another Euroleague title. "Our idea is winning," Ivkovic told Euroleague.net. "If someone wants to give us the role of favorite, I am willing to accept it. We have a competitive team, with a winning mentality, and these are our reasons to be confident."
Coaches always talk before a Final Four about all four teams each having 25 percent chances to win the title. Are you willing to break this tradition?
"It has been like that a lot of times, but this time I think we have enough arguments to feel we are the favorites. We ended up first in the 'death group' of the regular season, a group from which all four semifinalists come from. We made it to the Final Four before any other team and we had the best results overall."
But your semifinal rival is Maccabi. Can anyone be considered favorite against Maccabi in Nokia Arena?
"We have already won in Tel Aviv and we have experience. Without any kind of doubt, Maccabi has a great team, but we have also showed some of their weaknesses playing at home and we will try to take advantage of it."
You were in the same situation last year: a semifinal against the local team, FC Barcelona.
"It was a different situation. No one bet on us throughout the season and that sort of helped us to make it to the Final Four. Speaking on that game against Barcelona, don't forget that it was a close game for 39 minutes and they only won due to the experience of players like Dejan Bodiroga and Gregor Fucka and great support from their fans. We now have one more year of experience and our self-confidence is also higher."
The fact that CSKA made back-to-back Final Fours has a lot of importance. Can we suppose that you are happy with the work done over these two years?
"Yes, I am happy. Just see the facts: the only ones remaining from the team I found in August 2002 are president Aleksandar Gomelsky, the team doctor, Aleksandar Zykov, and the physical therapist, Asker Barcho. All the players, and even the CEO, Sergey Kuschenko, are new. He started rebulding two years ago and up to now we cannot complain even though we haven't reached all our goals yet."
The Final Four will be held in Moscow next year. Could that be the culmination of this project?
"We would like to defend the title in our city. We have to do a couple of things before that: win the title in Tel Aviv and reach the Final Four next season. We will try to do it. The Final Four is a great event and I am very happy for the fact that Moscow will host a first-level event."
Will CSKA come to Tel Aviv with its full roster?
"Unfortunately not. Our young guard Egor Vialtsev has a wrist injury, and his hand had to be immobilized. He will be with us, but it will be difficult for him to help us. He has not played much, but he is really important for our game."
How do you see the other semifinal matchup?
"From my experience last year, Montepaschi's chances to win are slightly better, but it is a very balanced matchup, as both teams know each other very well and have faced off several times. So in these kinds of games, few times can a team can be considered the favourite. Still, it is clear to me that the best four teams reached the Final Four and it will be a great one."