MANILA, June 23, 2004
By Nelson Beltran  -  For Red Bull Barako, Coca-Cola and Talk n Text, the battle for bragging rights as the league’s best in at least the first half of the decade rages on.

For Barangay Ginebra, it’s a mission to relive the glory years of the previous Ginebra teams.

These four teams press their respective bids as they figure in the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference crossover best-of-three semifinal round beginning with Game One at the Araneta Coliseum today.

It’s Coca-Cola versus Red Bull Barako on one side of the Final Four and Talk n Text against Barangay Ginebra on the other. Winners of the two semis playoffs clash in a best-of-five titular series.

The Tigers and the Thunder take the floor at 4:45 p.m. then the Phone Pals and the Kings clash at 7:10 p.m. in the openers which could well attract a huge Wednesday crowd at the Big Dome.

For one, Ginebra, undisputedly still the league’s No. 1 crowd-drawer, is figuring in its first semifinal stint since the 2001 All-Filipino Cup where it went all the way to the finals.

Then there are the Thunder, the Tigers and the Phone Pals–with their own growing number of diehard fans–once again figuring in the chase for ultimate glory in the country’s premier cage league. Red Bull Barako, Coca-Cola and Talk n Text account for five of the last eight PBA championships.

Coca-Cola, in particular, is on a run, having been in all the finals in the last four tournaments and winning two, including the 2003 Reinforced Conference.

But Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes believes a fifth straight finals stint is a tough task with the Red Bull Thunder as their semifinal foes.

Meanwhile, in a bid to have a more orderly officiating in the Final Four, league commissioner Noli Eala proposed to coaches Yeng Guiao of Red Bull Barako, Reyes, Joel Banal of Talk n Text and Siot Tanquingcen of Barangay Ginebra that an pruned down list of top referees will officiate the games. The refs will be divided into two groups which will be tasked to concentrate on a particular series.

"We have a present pool of 19 referees. Pero baka mga 14 refs lang, divided into two groups ang tatawag sa semis. Payag ang mga coaches na hatiin sa dalawang grupo ang mga referees para makapag-concentrate sa particular series," said PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial. The proposal, which was approved by the coaches, came in the aftermath of a series of controversies involving the referees.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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