Real fast-tracks to London

Third win over Maccabi Tel Aviv propels Madrid into Final Four

Real Madrid Nikola Mirotic's vies with Nik Caner Medley of Maccabi Electra in Tuesday's Euro League match.
Real Madrid Nikola Mirotic's vies with Nik Caner Medley of Maccabi Electra in Tuesday's Euro League match. ABIR SULTAN (EFE)

Real Madrid became the first team to earn its ticket to the Final Four of this year's Euroleague on Tuesday. Its 57-69 away win over Maccabi Tel Aviv gets it to London via the fastest route possible, completing a clean sweep of victories for the Spaniards in the best-of-five playoff series. The team previously beat the Israelis 79-53 and 75-63 in Madrid.

Competing in London from May 10 to 12 marks a big opportunity for a club that has been struggling to live up to its legacy in recent times. Real is a record eight-time Euroleague winner, but this marks only the second time it has reached this stage of the competition since 1996. Its last appearance was in Barcelona in 2011 when it finished fourth.

This year coach Pablo Laso is hoping the team will be able to recover past glories. "We have worked very hard to get here," he said after the match in Israel. "We're arriving at an important moment of the season in very good form and we have taken advantage of it to reach the Final Four.

"Now we have to enjoy it and rest," he continued. "These last 20 days have been very demanding. We have to recharge our batteries for what remains."

The Basque coach has managed to steer his men into the elite of European basketball in only his second year in charge. "We have grown a lot as a team in respect to last season. For me it is my first time as a coach, although I have already played one as a player."

That one time was in 1996 in Paris. Then Madrid reached the Final Four as defending champion, having won the previous year in Zaragoza. It fell at the semi-final stage to Barcelona. Nobody would have imagined that day that the much-garlanded club would spend the next 15 years languishing, earning just two second-tier European titles — the 1997 Saporta Cup and the 2007 ULEB Eurocup.

"The team is very excited, very united, and we hope the experience of Barcelona serves to make it the best possible in London," said Sergio Llull, part of a central core of national team players that also comprises Felipe Reyes, Sergio Rodríguez, Carlos Suárez and Nikola Mirotic, who played two years ago. It makes for a solid unit that has since been bolstered by the arrivals of Rudy Fernández and Jaycee Carroll. "We are prepared to fight for the Euroleague," said Carroll after Tuesday's match.

Bizkaia council comes to rescue of Uxue Bilbao Basket club


The provincial council of Bizkaia says it will sponsor the Uxue Bilbao Basket basketball club to help with “its very serious” economic situation and “avoid its disappearance” as a sporting entity.

The council removed all subsidies to professional sport from its 2013 budget, which in the case of Bilbao Basket meant the loss of 1.9 million euros.

The club’s financial situation has been made even worse by the fact that its new sponsor, Uxue, which substituted previous backer Gescrap in the middle of the season, has yet to offer up the sum it had agreed.

The council explained in a statement that following a number of meetings it had reached a deal with Bilbao Basket “to salvage its delicate” economic situation.

The agreement is set to make it easier for the club to face its “most pressing” economic obligations, among them the payment of salaries to staff, as well as of money owed to suppliers and financial entities.

The deal, which the provincial council and the basketball club are set to sign in shortly, involves a collaboration agreement to promote the province of Bizkaia as a historical tourism destination in 2014, 2015 and 2016, which will be brought forward to the current date.

The accord will make it easier for the club to keep going for what remains of this season and assure its continuity in the 2013-2014 campaign.

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