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What to look out for on UEFA Europa Conference League Matchday 1

West Ham and Villarreal are back in continental action after exciting continental adventures last season, with Nice and Köln also looking to shine.

Villarreal's Yeremy Pino, West Ham's Jarrod Bowen and Nice's Nicolas Pépé
Villarreal's Yeremy Pino, West Ham's Jarrod Bowen and Nice's Nicolas Pépé Getty Images

West Ham, Villarreal, Nice and Köln are among the teams looking to start the UEFA Europa Conference League campaign with three points on Thursday night.

In this piece presented by Enterprise, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the opening fixtures.

How qualifying for the knockouts works

The eight group winners automatically go through to the last 16. Additional knockout round play-offs between the eight group runners-up and the third-ranked teams from the UEFA Europa League groups will then be played before the round of 16.

Thursday 8 September
Group A: Hearts vs İstanbul Başakşehir, Fiorentina vs RFS
Group B: Anderlecht vs Silkeborg, West Ham vs FCSB
Group C: Villarreal vs Lech, Austria Wien vs H. Beer-Sheva
Group D: Slovácko vs Partizan, Nice vs Köln
Group E: Vaduz vs Apollon Limassol, Dnipro-1 vs AZ Alkmaar
Group F: Molde vs Gent, Shamrock Rovers vs Djurgården
Group G: Ballkani vs CFR Cluj, Sivasspor vs Slavia Praha
Group H: Basel vs Pyunik, Slovan Bratislava vs Žalgiris

Highlights: Lyon 0-3 West Ham

What to look out for

Hammers time for FCSB
"It will be exciting times once again," beamed West Ham manager David Moyes after the group stage draw, with the east London side primed for more European football after reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League last season. "I'm really pleased we're back in Europe again. Two years in a row for West Ham to be in Europe is fantastic."

Just as thrilled is FCSB coach Nicolae Dică, who is delighted that his charges will get to experience football at this level. The Romanian outfit succumbed in the qualifiers for this competition last term but are now raring for a prestigious trip to the English capital. "They need to see what it's like to play with 50-60,000 fans in the stands," he said. Here's hoping.

Great Villarreal goals

Villarreal out to make a splash
Europa League winners in 2020/21, Unai Emery's Villarreal followed up by reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League for only the second time last season. A seventh-placed Liga finish propelled them into the Europa Conference League this term, and Emery will be among the favourites to win the competition, having also won the Europa League three times during his Sevilla reign.

First-night guests Lech Poznań look to be in for a hard night in Spain, but John van den Brom's side have gelled after playing eight European qualifiers this summer, and the Dutch coach is excited about the challenge ahead, saying: "It's a big thing for me, for the team and for the whole club." The Railwaymen have made it through the Europa League/UEFA Cup group stage twice before and may spring a surprise yet.

New Nice signings Kasper Schmeichel and Aaron Ramsey
New Nice signings Kasper Schmeichel and Aaron RamseyAFP via Getty Images

Long time no see for Nice and Köln
Representatives from France and Germany meet in Group D, but only fans with very long memories will be able to recall Nice's previous meeting with Köln. The clubs crossed paths in the 1973/74 UEFA Cup third round, Les Aiglons winning 1-0 at the Stade du Ray before coming unstuck in Germany, losing the second leg 4-0.

Featuring former Premier League stars Kasper Schmeichel, Aaron Ramsey and Nicolas Pépé, Nice are coached by Lucien Favre, whose successful spell in charge of Borussia Mönchengladbach ended the day after a 1-0 loss to Köln on 19 September 2015. Meanwhile, Köln boss Steffen Baumgart is looking forward to the campaign, saying: "Our fans will be excited about these games, just like we are."

When are the Europa Conference League group stage games being played?

Matchday 1: 8 September 2022
Matchday 2: 15 September 2022
Matchday 3: 6 October 2022
Matchday 4: 13 October 2022
Matchday 5: 27 October 2022
Matchday 6: 3 November 2022

Highlights: Slavia Praha 4-1 LASK

Further ahead
• Slavia Praha welcome Kosovan side Ballkani on Matchday 2; it will be a first appearance in this season's group stage for the Eden Arena, with Slavia's home stadium staging the final on 7 June 2023.

• Fiorentina kick off at home against Latvian champions RFS but can expect a bigger challenge next time out when they visit an İstanbul Başakşehir team featuring former Arsenal and Real Madrid man Mesut Özil.

• Old-world glamour will be in evidence on Matchday 3 when Anderlecht host West Ham in a rematch of the 1976 European Cup Winners' Cup final. The Belgian giants prevailed 4-2 in Brussels that day to clinch their first UEFA club trophy.

Where is the 2023 UEFA Europa Conference League final being played?

The Eden Arena in Prague, the Czech Republic, has been selected to host this season's Europa Conference League final on 7 June 2023.

The 2013 UEFA Super Cup took place at the Eden Arena, with Bayern defeating Chelsea 5-4 on penalties following a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes, and a showpiece game also went the distance two years later in the 2015 Under-21 EURO final, Sweden seeing off Portugal 4-3 on spot kicks.