CSKA Reaps Praises, Albeit a Day Later

There were no bombastic headlines in the Russian press yesterday. In fact, there were no headlines at all. Russia celebrated May Day yesterday, so CSKA will have to wait one more day before drawing its just praises after having dethroned Maccabi Tel Aviv in Sunday night's Euroleague final.

Russian sportswriters said yesterday they would single out CSKA coach Ettore Messina for his work. The game's slow pace, dictated by the Italian's tactics, was the key to Moscow's victory, they said. "We beat a massive team, perhaps the best team to step on the court in Europe in the past 15 years," sportswriter Alexander Soloviov said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who joined the players in the dressing room after the win, told the team: "You showed a lot of character by beating a truly great team. As a fan, I raise my hat to you. You played outstanding defense, and after all, the army team should know how to defend."

Celebrations in the Russian dressing room were relatively subdued. Messina, as expected, was reserved as his 16-month son recovered in a Prague hospital after having been saved by Maccabi's medical staff after he lost consciousness.

"Obviously I'm happy, but I prefer to express it in my own way," Messina told Haaretz. "We beat a great team, perhaps one of the greatest ever in European basketball. I owe the victory to my wonderful players and to the club which is one big family. What could be better than winning the Euroleague in my first season with the club? I'm especially happy that we succeeded in bringing the European trophy to CSKA fans for the first time in 35 years. After three straight years of disappointment in the finals, we finally managed to bring them joy."

Speaking about Pini Gershon's expected departure from Maccabi at the end of the season, Messina said with his usual candor: "I miss him already: his charisma as a coach and his unique personality. Pini Gershon is an exceptional coach, and he succeeded in building an exemplary team that other clubs in Europe try to copy. I hope that after taking a break for a couple of years, Pini will return to coaching. I just hope he doesn't return with such a strong team."