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Papanikolaou was thrilled to beat Madrid at the Palau. PHOTO: V. SALGADO - FCB

The big day has arrived (9.00 PM CET). After eight months battling to get here, the Final Four is under way. Tonight’s semi-final is an enticing but difficult challenge, with two of the finest sides in Europe meeting a game that oozes with top talent. The Final Four is what European basketball players dream of, and for Barça, there’s the added attraction of facing old rivals Real Madrid, who have been in such dominant form in the ACB this season. This game will be one of the biggest tests of their entire careers.

Equal forces

Since October it has been almost impossible to split the sides. They key will be for the players to hang onto their nerves and not let the emotion get to them. For head coach Xavi Pascual this is his fifth Final Four, and he’ll be hoping to produce the kind of play his side showed in the same fixture at the Palau Blaugrana last weekend, where the impressive win did a lot to heal the psychological damage of defeat to Madrid in the Supercup and the Cup Final.

All on one game

“There are always huge expectations before a game like this. Practically the whole season hangs on one match and we're looking forward to it" says Marcelinho Huertas, who has been having such a wonderful season. “The emotion is guaranteed and as long as we win, I don’t care if Dorsey gets the last three-pointer”, he joked.

Barça v Real Madrid promises to be a magnificent showcase for European basketball in Milan tonight – and the prize at stake is a place in the final on Sunday.

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