They last played in the semi-finals of the Euroleague Final Four in Berlin back in 2009; you have to go back to 2002 for their last encounter in Greece, and after 12 years, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos will do battle in Athens tonight in the Top 16.
Rivalries in basketball do not come more intense or passionate than this. Both sets of supporters regularly clash with each other, the 2013 Greek Cup final was temporarily abandoned due to both sets of fans aiming fireworks at one another. An Olympiacos fan was beaten by a rival Panathinaikos supporter at the 2012 Final Four in Istanbul with that same supporter wearing the Olympiacos shirt of his fallen opponent as a trophy.
While the players don’t share the same hatred as the two sets of fans, they recognise and understand the amount of pressure on them to perform, particularly in this game is raised a few levels, especially as they will have two sets of the most fanatic basketball fans in the game. Bar none.
And there will be 20,000 of them tonight inside the OAKA.
“We all know that this game is special in our country,” Panathinaikos coach Argiris Pedoulakis explained. “There is bigger pressure, bigger energy. Olympiacos has changed some things lately, but nevertheless the two teams know each other. I believe that the team which will enforce its rhythm has the biggest chance to win. Also details will be very important for the final outcome of the game.”
Olympiacos coach Georgios Bartzokas added: “There will be a lot of interest in the way both teams approach the game. It’s psychological and tactical matter. Panathinaikos is a very good team and it is very difficult to beat them in their home court. We will do our best to get the win. It is not a final for us but a very important game.”
This season so far, Panathinaikos have had the upper hand despite Olympiacos having the better record in the Euroleague this season. Overall the Greens are 8-8, while reigning champions Olympiacos have only lost twice in 16 Euroleague clashes.
Both teams have played each other twice with Panathinaikos enjoying the sweet taste of success on both occasions. A semi-final win in this year’s Greek Cup, where they went on to beat Aris in the final – and in the A1 opener – a game which was played behind closed doors, Panathinaikos edged their rival in a defensive-mided contest 55-45.
Both sides understand that the game is met with great anticipation, something that is clearly shown from the statements of the players. Panathinaikos has suffered three consecutive defeats in Top 16 so far and is looking for a new beginning. Mike Bramos stated that it is a matter of will for his team to win the match, while on the other side; Olympiacos’ Vassilis Spanoulis, who played for Panthinaikos in the 2009 Final Four and won the Finals MVP for them reminded the press that his team’s only focus is towards the game, and will try to follow a quick pace to the game.
No players are sidelined for the two teams as they await to offer us a great game, hopefully without crowd troubles. A game worthy of the Euroleague, that we can talk about for years to come.