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UEFA Europa Conference League: What to look out for in the round of 16 first legs

Meet the new competition's endurance specialists and the former European champions seeking new adventures.

Rennes's Gaëtan Laborde, Bodø/Glimt's Alfons Sampsted and Roma's Tammy Abraham
Rennes's Gaëtan Laborde, Bodø/Glimt's Alfons Sampsted and Roma's Tammy Abraham

The UEFA Europa Conference League is in its first season, but the competition is starting to evolve its own set of heroes.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car presents UEFA.com's guide to the round of 16 first legs.

Bodø/Glimt and Partizan going the distance

With Qarabağ bowing out in the last round, Norway's Bodø/Glimt and Serbian giants Partizan are now neck and neck in the race to be the new competition's top appearance-makers. Both sides started their Europa Conference League adventure in the second qualifying round and have now racked up 14 games each – six in qualifying plus eight in the tournament proper – while Partizan's Miloš Jojić and Bodø/Glimt's Alfons Sampsted are among the competition's top individual appearance-makers with 14 apiece.

Bodø/Glimt famously beat Roma 6-1 at home in the group stage and pulled off a bigger coup by eliminating Celtic in the last round. They take on AZ Alkmaar next, while Partizan are up against Feyenoord. Should either side – or indeed both – make it to the final, the decider in Tirana would be their 21st Europa Conference League game of the season.

European champions in the hunt

PSV Eindhoven coach Roger Schmidt admitted that prior to the start of the season, he was not entirely convinced by the Europa Conference League, but – having already played in UEFA Champions League qualifying and the UEFA Europa League group stage this season – the Dutch side are warming to their new surroundings as they prepare to take on Copenhagen. "The tournament has surprised me in a good way," said Schmidt. "There are still a lot of strong teams in the last 16. We have already played two great games [against Maccabi Tel-Aviv] ourselves."

European champions in 1987/88, and UEFA Cup winners in 1977/78, PSV can add a new trophy to their collection this season, but they are not the only former European Cup winners in the running. Feyenoord, up against Partizan, won European football's top prize in 1970, and then took two UEFA Cups, while Marseille, who are facing Basel, were winners of the inaugural Champions League in 1992/93.

No away goals rule

The so-called away goals rule has been ruled from all UEFA club competitions as of this season. That means that ties in which the two teams score the same number of goals over the two legs are no longer decided on the number of goals scored away but by two 15-minute periods of extra time and, if necessary, a penalty shoot-out.

Mourinho leading Roma's odyssey

Roma boss José Mourinho is also looking to add to his own personal trophy haul; a Champions League winner with Porto (2003/04) and Inter Milan (2009/10), he added the Europa League with Manchester United in 2016/17 and goes into the first leg of his side's tie at Vitesse with another winners' medal in his sights.

As group winners, Roma sat out the knockout round play-offs, but their English striker Tammy Abraham (a member of Chelsea's Champions League-winning squad last season) is still top of the scorers' rankings thanks to his six goals in the group stage. Bodø/Glimt's Ola Solbakken and Gaëtan Laborde of Rennes are breathing down his neck with five goals. Arthur Cabral also hit five in the group stage for Basel but has since moved on to Fiorentina. Including qualifying, the Brazilian scored 13 goals in 12 Europa Conference League games.

Key dates

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

Knockout stage
17 March: Round of 16 second legs
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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