For Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual, it will certainly be a strange feeling playing Real Madrid for the first time outside of Spain.
Regardless of whether it’s in Catalunya, Madrid or in this case, London. There’s nothing quite like the ‘el Clasico’.
“I think that a Euroleague semi-final is already special by itself,” Pascual said. “I don’t know how it will feel to play against them outside Spain, in an unusual environment, but this is always a special game. We are top sports rivals in an important game to win a very important title. Of course, it will be very special.”
In the Liga Endesa, Barcelona vs Real Madrid is by far the most anticipated game on the calendar, the stakes are always at its highest level, and with Europe’s premier club prize on the line, the pressure will be even more intense.
“In this game, the winner gets a lot of credit and the loser is in a tough situation,” Pascual explains.
“That would be the recap; the winner wins a lot and the loser loses a lot. The deception is always bigger when you play a game like this. The happiness is also bigger when you win, too. This is a maximum sports rivalry and everything that comes with it.”
In his five full seasons at the Catalan club, this will be Pascual’s fourth Final Four, not a bad line for his resume. He does admit though that this year’s journey, which included a thrilling, come-from-behind series win over Panathinaikos has been the most challenging.
“When I first I got here is was also tough because we played a five-game playoffs series against Caja Laboral,” Pascual recalls. “I believe that we managed to beat one of the best teams that Caja Laboral had ever put together. It was really difficult to get to the Final Four in Berlin, too. It is at the same level, but since this one is more recent, it looks like the most difficult one.”
In those five years though, Barcelona have only won the title once – defeating Olympiacos in Paris back in 2010 – the all-time Euroleague’s leading scorer Juan Carlos Navarro was named MVP back then and the Catalan giants have since added Euroleague Final Four legend Sarunas Jasikevicius to their roster. A man who is looking to join such European basketball greats such as Clifford Luyk, Aldo Ossola and former team-mate Fragiskos Alvertis for second place on the all-time players list with a possible fifth Euroleague title in England’s famous capital city.
“You look back a little bit and see that you have done some good things,” said the Lithuanian. “Still, you mostly try to focus on the next game and the next situation. I have surprised myself a lot by still wanting to do it.
“I still have the motivation to do it. As long as I have this motivation, I will continue playing. At the same time, it is a new situation, a new challenge, and we are looking forward to it.”
Jasikevicius has an impressive record of 8-1 overall in Final Four match-ups, which is un-matched when you compare it with the record of the entire Real Madrid, who haven’t won a single game in the Final Four.
That particular statistic though should have not have any effect on Barca’s opponents on Friday night, says the veteran.
“The Spanish guys got to the biggest stages in the world,” Jasikevicius said. “Even though it is a different competition, they still will be able to manage the emotions well. They have played ACB, Eurobasket, Olympic and world championship finals. They have been to the biggest stages, so I don’t think it is going to be a big factor.”
Interview by Javier Gancedo – Euroleague.net