If Maccabi Tel Aviv qualifies for the Euroleague Final Four, as it has in three of the last five seasons, there is a good chance that the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Russia will cause problems for the team and fans who have bought tickets for the games, which are to take place in Moscow on May 6 and 8.
"Under current circumstances, we would prefer that the streets of Moscow not be flooded with thousands of Israeli fans, and we have the power to ensure that Maccabi fans do not make it to Moscow, beginning with the issuance or denial of visas, but also other ways, a senior official close to the Russian leadership who is involved with the games' organization said last week. "To be truthful, we would prefer if Maccabi doesn't come here at all."
CSKA Moscow, which has yet to lose this season, sees Maccabi as the main obstacle between the squad and another European title. The Russian champions recently have raised their budget to $30 million. CSKA Vice President Andrei Vatutin denied there is an effort to make it difficult for Maccabi fans to come to Moscow. "That's complete nonsense. Nobody here would consider discriminating against fans because of their background or nationality. On the contrary, Israeli fans have bought the most tickets. As far as I know, they've bought more than 1,000 tickets so far. I wouldn't be surprised if 3,000-4,000 Maccabi fans are in the Olympiski Arena (18,000 capacity) for the Final Four."
Vatutin also appears fairly certain that Maccabi will be in Moscow for the Final Four. "We've been able to seen several Maccabi games. I believe Maccabi is better than last year. Maccabi was very impressive away against Siena. I think Maccabi will be our main rival for the title."
A month ago, a senior Maccabi representative visited Moscow to make hotel arrangements for the Final Four. During the tournament, Russia will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany, and hotel space is expected to be scarce.
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