Having scored his first goal for Middlesbrough FC, George Boateng is ready for Egaleo FC.
By Tom Rollett
Middlesbrough FC's George Boateng is preparing for a trip into the unknown when the Teesside side travel to Athens to face Egaleo FC on Thursday in the UEFA Cup group stage.
The Dutch midfield player admits he knows little about the Greek opposition - but despite Egaleo's status as Group E outsiders, he insists victory will not be taken for granted. "You'd expect Egaleo to be one of the weakest sides in our group, but we won't underestimate them for a minute," Boateng told uefa.com.
"We'll be going there to win the match, but maybe a draw wouldn't be a bad result," added the midfield player. "They're third in their league, so that proves they must be a good side. And after what Greece achieved in the summer at [UEFA] EURO 2004™, you have to give them the utmost respect."
With seven regulars injured or doubtful for the tie, Middlesbrough have been forced to blood a number of young players in recent games. Striker James Morrison scored in the UEFA Cup first round, winger Stewart Downing has impressed and now teenage full-back Tony McMahon may make his European bow in only his third senior match.
"We've had a lot of senior players out recently like Mark Viduka, Ugo Ehiogu and Michael Reiziger, but everyone who's come in has done a great job," Boateng said. "The younger players have done particularly well, and proved they are capable of doing well at the highest level. That means the boss has plenty more options to choose from when picking his side, and he can even afford to rest certain players if he chooses."
Boateng admits that the team have had to adapt to playing in Europe on top of the demands of a packed domestic schedule. But with an impressive 4-0 victory away to Blackburn Rovers FC at the weekend, in which Boateng scored his first goal for Middlesbrough in his 82nd game, it seems they have adjusted well.
"It's a great result to go into the UEFA Cup with," Boateng said. "Playing twice a week, in Europe and at home, is something we've been getting used to and something we're learning to deal with as a squad. Teams like Manchester United [FC] have been doing this for many years, but for us this is the first time we have had to cope with these demands together. I believe we are coping well.
"It was also pleasing to get my first goal for Middlesbrough. I was more relieved for my friends and family, and the fans.
Everybody kept asking me when I was going to score and I finally did it for them! I've scored a lot in training, so I knew it would come one day."
Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored the other three goals against Blackburn and Boateng has been delighted with the former Chelsea FC man's form. "We've always created chances as a team, but in the past we haven't had anyone who consistently put them away," he said. "He's so sharp in the box, and he's given our play a new dimension.
"I've known Jimmy for a while and he's a great person to have around," Boateng added. "He trains hard and works hard on the pitch, and his record just speaks for itself. Everywhere he's been he's scored over 20 goals a season and that's the mark of a great striker. I'm so pleased he chose to join Middlesbrough when he left Chelsea."