By Yuri Kovalev
It’s no wonder that over 12,000 people attended the match at Minsk-Arena between legendary CSKA and Minsk-2006. The audience present were eager to see a game by the Moscow team with their own eyes.
Minsk-2006 fans who were aware of CSKA’s recent difficulties anticipated an easy win for their team. However, the multi-time champion of Russia and the USSR, twice named best Europa League club, proved otherwise. CSKA showed that it was having problems, performing less brilliantly than usual. Even so, CSKA played smoothly; its reserves abounded in talent, resulting in confident play. Rivals can win the Europa League matches and the Russian championships; so Minsk-2006’s dreams of victory were not totally unfounded. Minsk-2006’s head coach, Andrey Krivonos, and his trainees were clearly in high spirits, based on their successes this season: the Belarusian squad has crushed all opponents in the Belarusian championship and felt quite comfortable at the WTB United League. Having matched the play of favourites and defeated less titled rivals, their confidence was perhaps understandable.
The first minutes of the Minsk match confirmed forecasts, showing that CSKA is not as strong as it used to be and that Minsk-2006 has largely improved. The hosts began on good form, leading immediately, even not afraid of famous Holden, Langdon and Vorontsevich on the squad. Winning the first quarter, Minsk-2006 continued in the same vein until half time, leading by a comfortable margin. The Minsk fans were enjoying the atmosphere.
However, CSKA’s experience and strength began to work in their favour in the third quarter, when their speed, long throws and flawless penalty kicks came into play. Minsk-2006 was taken aback and CSKA shot ahead to win 75:62.
“In the first half of the match, we concentrated on both defence and attack,” noted Andrey Krivonos after the match. “The second half opened up CSKA’s potential. Each player on our squad did his best. However, it’s not possible to merely play basketball with such teams as CSKA: it’s vital to calculate our moves — as in chess — and demonstrate united play.”
CSKA Moscow praised Minsk-Arena, with coach Dmitry Shakulin noting his readiness to return to Minsk for the Final Four. CSKA is definitely through to this prestigious event, while Minsk needs to come second in Group A to earn a place in the tournament. Minsk-2006 lost its away match against UNICS Kazan, then defeated Honka of Finland at home and Dnepr Ukraine away before losing to local club Lietuvos Rytas, in Vilnius. Matches continue in early January.