Sam Allardyce, the Bolton Wanderers manager, yesterday likened his side's position in the Uefa Cup ahead of tonight's group match to a contestant on the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
A victory against Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal would almost certainly secure a place in the last 32 for Bolton and Allardyce is eager to see how his team cope in the knockout stages. "For us it is like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" said Allardyce. "We are nearly into the last 32 and into the £32,000 question if you like. If we get there, then we can have a go because it won't make any difference."
Bolton go into the match leading Group H thanks to a win over Zenit St Petersburg and a draw against Besiktas. Allardyce has good reason to be confident of getting the points he needs to take them through in their first season in European competition as Guimaraes are struggling and, despite winning at the weekend, lie second bottom of the Portuguese First Division.
"A win would certainly benefit us. The higher we finish in the group the better chance we have of getting a lesser side in the draw," said Allardyce. "We have a good opportunity of getting into the last 32 and there is a possibility we could go beyond that. Any positive result away from home in the group stage is acceptable."
Bolton might be European newcomers, but only the new captain, Kevin Nolan, and Joey O'Brien are inexperienced at this level of club football. The rest of the squad have a history of Champions' League and Uefa Cup competition.
Nolan has taken the armband from Jay Jay Okocha and is expected to lead the team out tonight. Okocha believes the 23-year-old England prospect can go on and become a legend at the club, joining the likes of Nat Lofthouse. "Kevin has been outstanding this season and when he was given the captaincy following my recent injury lay-off he stepped up another gear," said Okocha.
"He's a natural leader and, although he is relatively young, he commands respect from all the players. I've no doubt in my mind that Kevin can go on to create a legacy at this football club and become one of its most famous players."
Okocha admitted he was proud to have been captain. "It has been one of the greatest accolades of my playing career," he said. "Whenever I wore that captain's armband and led the team on to the pitch I always felt a great surge of pride. However, I now agree that it is time to hand the armband over to my colleague, Kevin Nolan."
The striker Kevin Davies is unfit after suffering a rib injury in the victory over Tottenham on 7 November. He will probably be replaced by the Mexican Jared Borgetti. But El Hadji Diouf, who suffered a similar injury against Spurs, has recovered and is in the squad. However, Henrik Pedersen is still troubled by an Achilles injury.Reuse content