The crossroads of Jasikevicius and Chus Mateo in the Euroleague Final Four | Sports

Cold Kaunas awaits the hottest match. Barcelona and Real Madrid collide this Friday in the semifinal of the Euroleague Final Four (8:00 p.m., Dazn; Olympiacos and Monaco play the other duel at 5:00 p.m.) in a date that contains many games in one. On the track, Mirotic and Tavares concentrate the spotlight in the middle of a parade of stars. On the benches, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Chus Mateo carry the same demands even though they arrive on the great European stage by different paths.

For the Barça coach it is his third consecutive Final Four since he landed at Barça with the reconquest of the European Cup as a duty rather than a wish. He fell on the two previous occasions, in the final against Efes two seasons ago and in the semifinal against Madrid last season, the victim of another white comeback. Saras now has a third shot in a symbolic place for the Lithuanian coach: in Kaunas he closed his career as a player and began his journey as a coach. And after eliminating the home team, Zalgiris, 3-0 in the quarterfinals, they now act as hosts. At the imposing Zalgirio Arena, next to the Niémen River, the second busiest arena in the EuroLeague regular season after Belgrade’s Stark Arena, Saras awaits a rookie in the fight for the continental crown. Chus Mateo keeps Madrid in the elite in his first year as the first white coach after overcoming a tortuous five-pulse series against Partizan Belgrade.

The sixth duel between the two in this course continues a sequence of equal forces. Madrid won the final of the Spanish Super Cup against the Barcelona fans, Barça claimed both matches in the ACB and in the Euroleague each team asserted its strength at home to secure the victory in its pavilion.

For Jasikevicius, another wink from the newspaper library. Just a week ago it was the 20th anniversary of the first Euroleague won by Barça (they celebrated a second in 2010). The Lithuanian point guard moved the team led by Bodiroga and directed by Pesic from the wing on the field and which blew up the Palau Blaugrana in the final against Benetton Treviso. “I don’t think much has changed since then,” says Saras, 47, now. “I deal with it in a similar way. I still have the same illusion. I remember all the details of Sant Jordi very well and that is why I understand the situation of my players. Some are going to play their first final or have been to a few. That’s why I try to talk to them, but it’s very difficult to say anything. You have to go through this. We have experienced players and as a coaching staff we have been to many finals. Winning is a mixture of many details and each one gives you a little point”.

Jasikevicius was already a coach dressed as a player when he dribble the ball. This is how the great legend of the benches, Zeljko Obradovic, who had him under his orders, remembers him: “Because of his character, he spoke a lot to his teammates. One day I called him and said: ‘Saras, you say 90% of what I say. You’re right. But you can’t talk to them the same way I can. Be careful’. He got it. He was one of their players with the freedom to do something different.”

Chus Mateo also tried to soak up the genius when the Serbian arrived at Madrid in 1994 and the man from Madrid was in charge of the lower categories. Today it is he who is facing the challenge of the European top in a course always under the magnifying glass. The long shadow of Pablo Laso has accompanied Chus Mateo in a season of eternal vindication. Succeeding the most successful coach of the last decade at the White House has meant daily examination and a continuous slide: titles from the last League and the Super Cup, loss in the Cup semifinals, third place in the regular phase of the Euroleague and now in the ACB…

“I am very happy and I do not stop downplaying these things. I try to play down what a Final Four is,” explains Mateo, 54; “I would like to contribute a small grain of sand to achieve this title. We are so close and so far… We only have to dream. Now there are no statistics, no excuses, no injuries or fatigue. There is only one match against Barcelona”. Opposite, the host Jasikevicius.

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