Champions Pembroke and rivals Fiat Luxol were yesterday bracing themselves for a fierce battle for the Kinnie League title as game one from the play-off final series is played tomorrow afternoon at the Ta' Qali Basketball Pavilion (4.15 p.m.).

Pembroke and Luxol reached this year's final after beating the strong challenge of Hamrun Liberty and Siggiewi in the semi-finals, thus confirming their status as the main challengers for the crown.

Joe Galea and John Tabone, coaches of Pembroke and Luxol respectively, yesterday predicted a balanced series.

"This year's championship has been one of the most keenly-contested in recent years," Galea said.

"Hamrun and Siggiewi offered a very stern challenge but I think that Luxol and Pembroke deserved to reach the final.

"Both sides have their strengths and their weaknesses. Luxol are more physical and will have a great advantage under the boards. But, on the other hand, our fast play will certainly be a great threat for their strong defence. I am positive on retaining the title."

"I have to admit that I perhaps know Pembroke more than my own players because we have been very unpredictable this season," Luxol coach Tabone remarked.

"Against Siggiewi, my team played well below its best. I have already told my players that if they want to win the title they must step up a gear.

"The team has great character and I am confident that, come Sunday, the players will be determined to do the job. I am confident that we can beat Pembroke."

Ivan Attard, Luxol's captain, warned critics and opponents against reading too much into their previous performances.

"Every game has its own story. Pembroke are a very strong side but we have proved time and again that we can match them. It's up to us to prove our superiority."

On his part, Pembroke skipper Julian Naudi said: "In such contests, there are no clear favourites. When you are in a final, the strengths and weaknesses of the respective teams count little.

"Everything depends on how the teams perform on the day. The most consistent side will win the championship."

The contestants of the Women's League championship final have yet to be determined. Depiro have already qualified to the final after defeating Luxol in the semi-finals. Rabat's opponents for the final will be known tomorrow when the fifth and decisive game between Hibs and Naxxar is played.

Naxxar coach Stephen Buttigieg said his team has shown signs of improvement this season and this has bolstered his optimism about their chances of defeating Hibernians to book their place in the final.

"From a psychological point of view, my team has come a long way this season. They no longer fear the strength of Hibernians because they have realised that if they play well they can beat them. I think Naxxar and Hibs are on a par but I believe we can win the decider."

Hibs skipper Lucienne Bezzina said her team's performances this season have been affected by injuries to key players but she reckons that the Paolites will leave their problems behind them when they meet Naxxar in the fifth tie.

Also present for yesterday's news conference at the Pizza Hut outlet in St Julian's was MBA president, Magistrate Antonio Mizzi who augured that the teams competing in the Kinnie League and the Women's league produce exciting contests that entertain the crowd at Ta' Qali.

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