Panathinaikos and CSKA are ready to battle each other Sunday evening in Berlin for one of the most unpredictable title games in Euroleague history. Neither team can be considered a favorite two years after they played one of the most exciting finals ever and two nights after both wowed a capacity crowd at o2 World in Berlin by surviving electric semifinal challenges. At the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on Saturday night, the talk was all about the fascinating turns in those semifinal games - but few were ready to predict a winner between CSKA and Panathinaikos in the final. Indeed, a quick poll of the award winners on Saturday who will not play Sunday's title game showed how difficult it is to choose between the finalists. The only certainty was that there is no consensus choice for champion, even among the other finest players in the competition
Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica, who was named to the All-Euroleague First Team and received the Alphonso Ford Top Scoring Trophy, was perhaps the only player who didn't hesitate when asked to name his winner on Sunday. "It is very difficult because both teams are great," Rakocevic said. "If I have to pick a favorite, that is Panathinaikos." His Tau Ceramica teammate Tiago Splitter had a few more doubts but also thinks in the same way. "It is very difficult to know what is going to happen," Splitter said. "Both teams are European superpowers with talented players. As far as I saw in these two games, Panathinaikos has a little advantage because of its deeper roster, but like I said, it is tough to call."
On the other side of the coin, two-time Euroleague winner and former MVP Theo Papaloukas of Olympiacos had to go with his emotions, and therefore, his old team. "CSKA and Panathinaikos are very good teams ready for the final," Papaloukas said. "You know that my heart belongs to CSKA, I played six years for them and had a great time, so I have to say they will win. You never know, however. Two great coaches, a lot of great players... it will be a very interesting final."
The player who was crowned MVP of the season on Saturday, Regal FC Barcelona superstar Juan Carlos Navarro, also gave his prediction after the awards ceremony, leaning toward the defending champions. "I expect a close game, just as the semifinals on Friday," Navarro said. "All four teams could have won the title, but I would bet for CSKA."
That left the tie-breaking opinion to All-Euroleague point guard Terrell McIntyre of Montepaschi Siena, whose team was the one of two this season that played against both of Sunday's finalists. Having met them face-to-face and battled against both - McIntyre couldn't decide between them. "We played both great teams, and it is going to be a tough game," McIntyre said. "Either one will be a great champion, but it is really hard to choose who will win! It is too close to call, really. I don't have a favorite."
One thing is for certain: the best way to find out is to sit back, relax and enjoy what surely will be a historical Euroleague final!