Thursday, 10 May 2012
The day that the dream starts has finally come! This night we are flying from Athens to Istanbul. We approached the Turkish Airlines counter in order to check in to our flight. With great joy we had in our hands the two tickets that will transfer us to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four.
The time to board is here! Due to the special occasion Turkish Airlines has allocated a very large and impressive airplane for the trip, with entertainment monitors for every individual passenger. You could spend hours watching movies, playing games, surfing the net, or even watching the sky with the exterior-equipped cameras. Too bad the trip was too short to discover all the possibilities. We’ve been served with snacks and drinks to make the trip even more comfortable. After approximately an hour we approached the Istanbul airport. Due to the fact that the air traffic was quite high at the time, we had the opportunity to see the city from high above.
We got a taxi to the Polat Renaissance Istanbul Hotel, which is located very close to the airport. On our way we easily spotted the hotel, as it’s a 30-floor building with beautiful exterior lighting. We arrived at the impressive hotel lobby where the hotel staff welcomed us pleasantly. They gave us our room cards and we went to our beautiful room just next to the hotel’s exterior and interior swimming pools. The hotel facilities are huge, with shops, restaurants, bars, fitness center etc. We decided to visit the luxurious bar for a quick drink. To our astonishment, the coaches and the staff of our favorite teams, Olympiakos for me, Panathinaikos for Despina, were sitting at the neighboring tables, discussing the upcoming matches. It was then that we realized that all the teams are living in the same hotel with us and that we had the chance to meet all the players and live the atmosphere of that Final Four in the best way!
Friday, 11 May 2012
Friday has come and everyone is living for the semifinals that are arranged for today. Since the games are scheduled to begin in the afternoon we had some time to discover Istanbul, the host city of Final Four.
Right after we had a rich buffet breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant area, we took the shuttle bus to arrive at the city center and the Sultan Ahmet district. We visited Hagya Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Sisterna. The whole area was crowded with Final Four fans who were easily detected as they were dressed in the colors of their favorite teams.
The time passed and we returned to our rooms to get ready for the Sinan Erdem Arena. Euroleague had arranged a shuttle bus to transfer us to the court, which was close enough to the hotel. We picked up our tickets, we had a look at them and we read to our surprise that our seats are located in the first row of the court! It was very easy to find them, first row, right in the center of the court, marked with the sponsor’s name Turkish Airlines. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were and we started taking photos all over the court to remember these moments forever.
It is just 20 minutes before the first semifinal begins. The first game is between CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos. The two teams are already on the court, performing their last warm-up before the game. Despina is dressed in green supporting her favorite team.
The game began very well for Panathinaikos, as the first period finished with a 14-point difference in favor of the Greek team. To our disappointment that did not last a lot, as in the second period CSKA came back dynamically and the halftime arrived with Panathinaikos just 2 points ahead. The game was thrilling and the teams were always close to each other. The winner was decided just on the final Panathinaikos attempt. CSKA was just 2 points ahead and Panathinaikos did not manage to score at the last 9 seconds. CSKA beat Panathinaikos 66-64 and we already knew the first team that will participate in the grand final.
We left our seats for a while to visit the VIP lounge for a quick refreshment. After half an hour we returned back to the courtside to watch the next teams' final warm-ups.
At 21:00 the second semifinal started and Olympiacos and Barcelona were both ready to fight for a place in the Euroleague final. Olympiacos made a very good start, and I was really excited, but Barcelona did not give up that easily and after 15 minutes of play the match was at a draw. Both teams looked equally prepared for the game, as the score was very close all the time. Until the very last moment, both teams fought hard. To my satisfaction, Olympiacos managed to win the game and to qualify for Sunday’s final.
Saturday, 12 May 2012
There is no game today so we had the whole day to further explore Istanbul. Today we went to Begyoglu district. We walked along the great shopping road Istiklal which was crowded by Turkish people and Euroleague fans as well. We arrived to Taksim Square, where the Euroleague had arranged the Devotion Fan Zone Basketball celebration. Baskets were placed, music was heard all over the square and people were playing basketball. The weather was pleasant and sunny and that helped it to be a very nice event.
We walked again along Istiklal, continuing our shopping and tasting the local food, which was delicious. We returned to our hotel in the evening to have dinner at the hotel’s bar-restaurant. As we were eating, we could see in the same area our favorite basketball players from all the Final Four teams and realize that they are not enemies, as the fans may sometimes think, but they are all participants of the Euroleague championship contributing to the best results and to a great show.
Sunday, 13 May 2012
The big day has finally come! After a short walk around Istanbul’s city center, we took the shuttle bus to Sinan Erdem Arena.
In the third-place game between Panathinaikos and Barcelona, both teams started the match strongly and aggressively. The first period’s score, 20-21, shows that both teams are here to play nice basketball and cheer their supporters. Barcelona was leading the score by the end of the first half, but Panathinaikos was close and the second half was also an enjoyment. Finally, Barcelona took the victory from Panathinaikos by a score of 69-74.
The few empty seats started to fill up very quickly, as the match of the year was approaching. With less than an hour remaining until the jump ball, Olympiacos and CSKA fans were dominating the arena creating a very nice atmosphere. I was really anxious and couldn’t wait for the starting whistle. Sitting at the courtside of the arena, not only you could see the match from the best place, but you could also hear the crowd singing their team anthems loudly.
A few moments before the start of the game, the trophy was presented to the arena, waiting for the next champion.
The hour passed very quick and the presentation of the teams started. The atmosphere was truly amazing. Right on time the game started!! Both teams were very anxious about the game and the first period's score of 10-7 can attest to that fact. To my disappointment, the second period started and ended really well for CSKA, as they entered the court showing decisiveness to win this battle. The end of the first half found the Russian team 13 points ahead of Olympiacos and the name of the new champion started to show up. The third period started even better for CSKA, which soon led the match with the threatening total of 19 points ahead in the score. The third period ended on 53-40 for CSKA! At the start of the last period, Olympiacos entered the court to try for the best even though CSKA was way ahead. Olympiacos with a very tight defense managed to hold CSKA scoreless for 7 minutes and make a 0-13 run in its favor, although until the very last minute of the game the Russian team had the first word on raising the trophy. With a series of lost free throws from CSKA players, the game becomes a real thriller. Ten seconds before the final whistle and CSKA is ahead with 61-60. Now the noise from Olympiacos fans was so loud that it made an incredible atmosphere in the court. With just 0.7 seconds before the end, Olympiacos scored to go ahead 61-62. With so little time remaining, CSKA wasn’t able to score and Olympiacos was the new Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion for 2012!
The scenes in the court with the players enjoying their victory, the speakers playing the trademark song of Queen, “We are the Champions”, and thousands of confetti paper pieces been thrown, made the atmosphere memorable!
Thank you very much Turkish Airlines! Thank you very much Euroleague Basketball! The whole experience has been unforgettable. See you in London 2013!