Carlos Carvalhal claims Sheffield Wednesday are the underdogs in their Championship play-off final against Hull City, a match with promotion to the Premier League and a huge financial windfall at stake.
Billed as the richest game in world football, winning this year’s second-tier showpiece at Wembley Stadium has been calculated to be worth a minimum of £170 million, rising to £290m if survival is secured for at least one season.
Wednesday – bidding to return to the top flight for the first time since their relegation in 2000 – finished sixth in the Championship, but that did not stop them eliminating Brighton and Hove Albion in the semi-finals, despite the Seagulls amassing 15 more points and only missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference.
Wednesday defeated Brighton 2-0 at home in their semi-final first leg, before a 1-1 draw on the south coast secured their spot in the decider.
Getting the better of Hull in a one-off game on Saturday appears, theoretically at least, a less daunting assignment and the Owls’ Portuguese manager Carvalhal is backing his players to get the job done.
“If we don’t believe, who will? If we didn’t believe in what we are doing, we wouldn’t have achieved what we have done this season,” he said.
“We are the outsiders but being underdogs doesn’t mean we don’t have 50 per cent of the chances to win the game.
“We must believe we can do it and have given a strong message to the players that we can achieve it.”
Hull experienced an unusual passage to the final, romping to a 3-0 away win over Derby County in the first leg, before losing 2-0 at home in an equally one-sided return.
Carvalhal’s opposite number Steve Bruce is well acquainted with the big stage, having won numerous honours as a player with Norwich City and Manchester United.
He has since orchestrated two promotions with Birmingham City – once via the play-offs – and another with Hull in 2013.
“Make no mistake, even the experienced players and managers get themselves in a state, it’s only human,” Bruce said of the nerves both teams will feel at Wembley.
“It’s then how you deal with it and how you manage it. You’ve got to try and enjoy it because these games don’t come around very often.
“We know what’s at stake but it’s just about performing on the biggest stage and someone being a hero.”
Bruce has close to a full-strength squad to choose from, although it is likely goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic will continue to deputise for injured number one Allan McGregor between the sticks.
Carvalhal meanwhile, who has omitted Everton loanee Aiden McGeady from his matchday squad, must choose between Alex Lopez and Sam Hutchinson, the latter back to full fitness after recovering from glandular fever, to partner Kieran Lee in midfield.
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