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What to look out for on UEFA Europa Conference League Matchday 2

Denmark beckons for West Ham, Fiorentina visit an impressive İstanbul Başakşehir side and the final venue opens for UEFA Europa Conference League business on Thursday.

Slavia's Aleš Mandous, West Ham's Michail Antonio and İstanbul Başakşehir's Mesut Özil
Slavia's Aleš Mandous, West Ham's Michail Antonio and İstanbul Başakşehir's Mesut Özil

With ten draws in the 16 Matchday 1 fixtures, the UEFA Europa Conference League is delivering hard-fought contests, even for sides from the 'big five' domestic competitions.

In this piece presented by Enterprise, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the Matchday 2 fixtures.

Thursday 15 September
Group A: RFS vs Hearts (21:00), İstanbul Başakşehir vs Fiorentina (21:00)
Group B
: FCSB vs Anderlecht (21:00), Silkeborg vs West Ham (21:00)
Group C
: Lech vs Austria Wien (21:00), Hapoel Beer-Sheva vs Villarreal (21:00)
Group D
: Partizan vs Nice (21:00), Köln vs Slovácko (21:00)
Group E
: Apollon Limassol vs Dnipro-1 (18:45), AZ Alkmaar vs Vaduz (18:45)
Group F
: Djurgården vs Molde (18:45), Gent vs Shamrock Rovers (18:45)
Group G
: Slavia Praha vs Ballkani (18:45), CFR Cluj vs Sivasspor (18:45)
Group H
: Žalgiris vs Basel (18:45), Pyunik vs Slovan Bratislava (18:45)

All times CET

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.

What to look out for

Hammers up against a Claret-and-Blue favourite
West Ham put domestic troubles aside as they won 3-1 at home against FCSB on Matchday 1 but have another challenge as they head to Denmark. Silkeborg's players may not ring many bells for English supporters, but older ones might remember their coach Kent Nielsen, who was a centre-back for another Claret-and-Blue-shirted side, Aston Villa, from 1989–91.

Silkeborg are very much the odd team out in a seasoned Group B line-up. This is their first European campaign since 2001/02, and following their opening 1-0 defeat at Anderlecht, they have gone nine games (D1 L8) without a continental win since a 2-0 defeat of Slovenia's Mura in August 1998. Nielsen, however, is up for adventure. "It will be a great challenge," he said. "We are going to be underdogs in every game, but let's see if we can't create some problems for these teams with our way of playing."

Highlights: West Ham 3-1 FCSB

Will Mesut Özil feature against Fiorentina?
İstanbul Başakşehir were among the big winners on Matchday 1, their 4-0 defeat of Hearts completing a miserable week for Scottish sides (Celtic and Rangers having lost big in the UEFA Champions League). Coached by 101-times capped ex-Turkey midfielder Emre Belözoğlu, the Grey Owls looked great in Edinburgh, even without rarely sighted summer signing Mesut Özil.

The 33-year-old former Arsenal and Germany midfielder has had fitness issues, but even in peak condition, breaking into this Başakşehir team may be a struggle. The win against Hearts extended Başakşehir's unbeaten run to 19 games in all competitions. Those are daunting figures for their next guests, Serie A side Fiorentina. "They're a really strong team, but we have started the season very well," Belözoğlu said as he sized up the Viola. "We're going to compete and do everything to get the best result we can."

Highlights: Hearts 0-4 İstanbul Başakşehir

Final venue comes into play
After drawing 1-1 at Sivasspor on Matchday 1, Slavia Praha welcome Ballkani for what will be the first 2022/23 Europa Conference League group stage game at Eden Arena – with Slavia's home stadium staging the final on 7 June 2023. The last team to play a major UEFA competition final in their own home arena are Bayern, who lost the 2012 UEFA Champions League final to Chelsea after a penalty shoot-out in Munich.

Slavia made it as far as the quarter-finals of this competition last season, and have started their 2022/23 campaign in impressive form at home: they won all their Eden Arena games in qualifying this time around, scoring 11 goals and conceding none. Ballkani, though, may not be sacrificial lambs on Thursday. The first Kosovan club to compete in a major UEFA club group stage, Ilir Daja's side kicked off with a 1-1 draw against experienced CFR Cluj.

Highlights: Sivasspor 1-1 Slavia Praha

When are the remaining Europa Conference League group stage games?

Matchday 3: 6 October 2022
Matchday 4: 13 October 2022
Matchday 5: 27 October 2022
Matchday 6: 3 November 2022

Further ahead
• There will be more old-world glamour on Matchday 3 as Anderlecht host West Ham in a rematch of the 1976 European Cup Winners' Cup final. The Belgian outfit prevailed 4-2 in Brussels to clinch their first UEFA trophy.

• Lech's Mikael Ishak, Villarreal's Álex Baena, Wouter Burger of Basel, Partizan's Foussein Diabate and Slovácko's Jan Kalabiška all scored two goals on Matchday 1. Will they stay in the running for the top scorer honour?

• Villarreal return to Spain to host Austria Wien on Matchday 3. Europa League winners in 2020/21 and Champions League semi-finalists last term, the Yellow Submarine are aiming to reach the knockout stage of a third different UEFA competition in as many seasons.

Highlights: Villarreal 4-3 Lech

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. 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.