By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Very few rivalries around the world carry the excitement and energy that European archrivals bring to the table. For many years, games between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Panathinaikos Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus, and also Fenerbahce against Anadolu Efes in Istanbul have created a buzz that couldn’t be rivaled by anything else in the world of basketball.
The recent additions to those marquee matchups include Monaco vs. LDLC ASVEL and AX Armani Exchange Milan vs. Virtus Segafredo Bologna. Now, for the first time ever, Belgrade will witness a EuroLeague derby between two of the oldest and most passionate rivals in sports.
Partizan will host Crvena Zvezda in front of 18,000 pumped-up fans at Belgrade’s Stark Arena, with an estimated 2,000 of them supporting the guests in an event that is expected to make history and already includes basketball icons, starting from the coaches.
This is the first time ever that the two Serbian powerhouses are playing against each other in the top European basketball competition. However, it’s not the first time that the two coaches, Partizan’s Zeljko Obradovic and Crvena Zvezda‘s Dusko Ivanovic, are crossing paths. Their duels date back to when they were players, Obradovic for Partizan and Ivanovic for Jugoplastika.
As coaches, they have played against each other in 15 EuroLeague games, starting from the 2002-03 EuroLeague season, when Ivanovic was coaching Baskonia – then called Tau Ceramica – and Obradovic was already the defending EuroLeague champion with Panathinaikos. In total, Obradovic has won 11 of those 15 games, but that just might be only a footnote for Thursday’s duel.
This is a high-stakes contest for which Serbian reporters Nikola Miloradovic and Bojan Brezovac from Mozzartsport explain what exactly this game means for both sides, with everything focused around the two coaches for different reasons.
Obradovic: The second coming
A new era started in Partizan the moment Zeljko Obradovic decided to return to the place where he started his illustrious career after 28 years. But so far, one thing is missing: trophies. That is the main thing the black-and-white club is looking for this season, and to top it all off, Partizan is back in Euroleague after eight long years.
So far, in an up-and-down season, riddled with injuries, it can all be turned around in a single match. It’s the biggest one in Serbia, the eternal derby against Crvena Zvezda. Partizan was struggling over the last couple of weeks, mainly on defense, but if they win on Thursday in a packed Stark Arena, there is no telling what can happen next, because a win against Zvezda in the eyes of the fans is almost equal to a trophy.
Getting the bragging rights for a long, long time gives the winner on Thursday the luxury to work with patience concerning the results in the EuroLeague.
Ivanovic: The hot streak
Crvena Zvezda had a shaky start to the season, winning just one out of the first seven EuroLeague games. With the arrival of veteran coach Dusko Ivanovic, things changed rapidly. After three practices with the team, Ivanovic grabbed his first victory at the helm of the defending Serbian champions. No wonder, since his first training sessions with the team lasted many hours, as the Montenegrin coach joked.
The win against LDLC ASVEL turned out to be just the first of many. In under three weeks with the new coach on the bench, led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Nemanja Nedovic and Luca Vildoza, Zvezda got seven straight triumphs, four in the EuroLeague, three in the Adriatic League, with one of them against Partizan just over a week ago.
Before the historical EuroLeague derby against their fiercest rival, Crvena Zvezda has turned into a defensive force, a team that thrives in crunch time, bending almost every opponent to its way in the closing minutes. And in their domestic league, Partizan felt that, suffering one of the heaviest defeats of the season in front of Crvena Zvezda’s crowd in a packed Aleksandar Nikolic hall. So the question is: Can Zvezda do it on the road?
Photo credit: ABA Liga