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UEFA Europa Conference League: What to look out for in the play-off first legs

Three former European champions host rank outsiders; is a shock in the air in the knockout round first legs?

Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi, PSV's Cody Gakpo and Marseille's Dimitri Payet are all set to feature in the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-off first legs
Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi, PSV's Cody Gakpo and Marseille's Dimitri Payet are all set to feature in the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-off first legs

The final of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League is coming into view with the start of the knockout round play-offs. Will the old guard dominate the closing rounds of the new competition or will less-storied sides rise to the occasion?

Enterprise Rent-A-Car presents UEFA.com's guide to the stand-out stories.

Thursday 17 February

18:45 CET
Fenerbahçe (TUR) vs Slavia Praha (CZE)
Midtjylland (DEN) vs PAOK (GRE)
PSV Eindhoven (NED) vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)
Rapid Wien (AUT) vs Vitesse (NED)

21:00 CET
Marseille (FRA) vs Qarabağ (AZE)
Leicester City (ENG) vs Randers (DEN)
Celtic (SCO) vs Bodø/Glimt (NOR)
Sparta Praha (CZE) vs Partizan (SRB)

The second legs take place a week later, on 24 February.

Celtic take on Norwegian giant-killers

Highlights: Bodø/Glimt 6-1 Roma

Based inside the Arctic Circle, Bodø/Glimt have had very different winter worries to the side they are visiting, 1966/67 European Cup winners Celtic. The Norwegian champions come to Parkhead having not played a competitive game since December, with European successes like their sensational 6-1 group stage win against Roma having brought scouts from bigger clubs out in force.

Defensive midfield star Patrick Berg has joined Lens, having reportedly decided against a move to Celtic, and coach Kjetil Knutsen is being routinely linked to vacant posts in most major leagues north of the Alps. "I have a dream with this club; I want us to develop further," he said recently. If he can pull off another coup against Ange Postecoglou's Hoops, he can start to dream even bigger.

Former European champions seek new accolade

Two more former European Cup winners have made it to the knockout round play-offs; PSV Eindhoven welcome Maccabi Tel-Aviv hoping to be the first side to have had a hold of all three of the current major UEFA club trophies. Having won the UEFA Cup in 1978, and the European Cup in 1988, the 24-time Dutch champions will have an eye on the UEFA Europa Conference League final.

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The same will be true of Marseille – winners of the inaugural UEFA Champions League in 1992/93 – but their first-leg guests, Azerbaijan's Qarabağ, are up for the challenge. "We will not be afraid of the opponents' name," coach Gurban Gurbanov said, adding: "I trust my team. I do not want to talk about defeat. But our players will fight without fear of the opponents."

Foxes vs Horses: Can Leicester overpower Randers?

The knockout round play-off contenders

Leicester pulled off one of the greatest shocks in modern football when they took the 2015/16 Premier League title, but Brendan Rodgers' team look like giants to their guests, Danish side – and fellow domestic cup holders – Randers. "Our chances are minimal," conceded coach Thomas Thomasberg after the draw.

However, as they come to England, the Horses are looking to cause their countryman Kasper Schmeichel a problem or two. "It is nice to draw a well-known club featuring the Danish national team goalkeeper," Thomasberg added. "We have shown that can stand up to a team like this."

Who is through to the last 16?

AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Basel (SUI)
Copenhagen (DEN)
Feyenoord (NED)
Gent (BEL)
Rennes (FRA)
Roma (ITA)

Key dates

Tirana's National Arena will stage the final
Tirana's National Arena will stage the finalUEFA via Getty Images

Knockout stage
17 & 24 February: Knockout round play-offs
25 February: Round of 16 draw
10 & 17 March: Round of 16
18 March: Quarter-final & semi-final draws
7 & 14 April: Quarter-finals
28 April & 5 May: Semi-finals
25 May: Final (National Arena, Tirana)

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