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Europa Conference League knockout round play-off first legs: Game-by-game preview

Get the lowdown on the eight matches as the 2022/23 UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs get under way.

Pedro Rodríguez enjoys scoring for Lazio in the group stage
Pedro Rodríguez enjoys scoring for Lazio in the group stage Getty Images

Lazio, Braga and Trabzonspor are among the sides in action as the UEFA Europa Conference League returns on Thursday 16 February with eight knockout round play-off openers. Get the lowdown on every game.

What are the knockout round play-offs?

There are 16 teams involved in the Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs: the eight runners-up from the Europa Conference League group stage and the eight third-placed teams from the UEFA Europa League group stage.

Ties are played over two legs and will conclude on Thursday 23 February; the away goals rule has been abolished. The eight play-off winners join the eight group winners in the round of 16 draw on Friday 24 February; the eight play-off losers will no longer be involved in 2022/23 European competition.

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Qarabağ vs Gent (18:45 CET)

The Azeri champions broke new ground last season as they made it to the spring phase of a UEFA competition for the first time, but having lost both legs of their knockout round play-off against Marseille, Gurban Gurbanov's side (now sometimes featuring the coach's son Musa Gurbanli up front) will look to take a step up against Gent. The Belgian team are without a win in six European away games (D2 L4) but will hope to turn things around as they make the longest away trip in their history (3,700km).

Key stat
Qarabağ are unbeaten in seven European home games (W3 D4) since losing 3-0 to Marseille at this stage last season.

Highlights: Gent 4-0 Molde

Trabzonspor vs Basel (18:45 CET)

The stakes are slightly higher than when these sides met on Matchdays 2 and 6 of the 2019/20 Europa League group stage. Now at Salzburg, Noah Okafor scored the crucial equaliser as the teams drew 2-2 in Turkey, but by the time they reconvened in Switzerland, Trabzonspor were marooned at the bottom of the section with nothing to play for, a 2-0 win sealing top spot for Basel. A number of current players from both sides featured in those meetings, but home boss Abdullah Avcı will hope for better from the Turkish champions this time.

Key stat
Trabzonspor have conceded just once in four European home games this season (W3 D1).

Highlights: Pyunik 1-2 Basel

Bodø/Glimt vs Lech (18:45 CET)

Last season, Kjetil Knutsen's side's European adventure encompassed 20 UEFA competition games and took Bodø/Glimt all the way to the Europa Conference League quarter-finals. This season has been less of an unalloyed joy, the Yellow Horde ceding their Norwegian title to Molde during the autumn and finishing third in their Europa League group behind Arsenal and PSV. John van den Brom's Lech, meanwhile, feature a host of Swedish and Norwegian players who will not be too daunted by the out-of-season temperatures at Aspmyra Stadion.

Key stat
The hosts are on a four-game losing streak in Europe and come into the match having not played a competitive game since 13 November.

Highlights: Lech 3-0 Villarreal

Braga vs Fiorentina (18:45 CET)

Under Domingos Paciência, Braga made it all the way to the final of the 2010/11 Europa League, losing to Porto in an all-Portuguese decider in Dublin. They may be disappointed to have moved into the Europa Conference League this time, ten points only good enough for third place in their section this season. Under Vincenzo Italiano, Fiorentina are back in Europe for the first time in six years but have not made it through a spring round of a UEFA competition since reaching the Europa League semi-finals in 2014/15.

Key stat
Fiorentina were the joint top scorers in this season's Europa Conference League group stage with 14 goals.

Fiorentina's best Conference League group stage goals

What next?

The second legs take place a week after the first, on 23 February. Winners of the ties earn a place in the round of 16 draw on 24 February, where they will be unseeded.

The seeded teams are AZ Alkmaar, Djurgården, İstanbul Başakşehir, Nice, Sivasspor, Slovan Bratislava, Villarreal and West Ham.

Lazio vs CFR Cluj (21:00 CET)

Dan Petrescu represented Foggia and Genoa in the early years of his playing career, and may have felt the benefit back in the 2019/20 Europa League when his CFR side beat Lazio 2-1 in their opening game before going on to qualify at the Serie A side's expense despite losing the return fixture 1-0. This season, Maurizio Sarri's Lazio finished third in a bizarre Europa League Group H in which all four sides ended up with eight points, but remain afloat as they aim to lift the trophy that their city rivals Roma won last season.

Key stat
Lazio are unbeaten in four home games against Romanian opponents: two draws and, more recently, wins against FCSB (5-1, 2018) and CFR (1-0, 2019).

Highlights: CFR Cluj 2-0 Slavia Praha

AEK Larnaca vs Dnipro-1 (21:00 CET)

Top of the Ukrainian league during its long winter break, Dnipro-1 may welcome a second chance to take on AEK Larnaca after the Cypriot side emerged victorious in this season's Europa League play-offs, José Luis Oltra's team winning 2-1 in Kosice (where Dnipro-1 are playing their European home games this season) and 3-0 in Larnaca. AEK finished a distant third behind Fenerbahçe and Rennes in their Europa League group, but took four points off another Ukrainian side, Dynamo Kyiv, in the process.

Key stat
Artem Dovbyk scored 16 goals in 22 Dnipro-1 games in all competitions in the autumn.

Highlights: Apollon Limassol 1-3 Dnipro-1

Sheriff vs Partizan (21:00 CET)

Big hitters in their respective leagues, these sides were paired in the second qualifying round of the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League, Partizan's Obiora Odita scoring the only goals as his side won both legs 1-0. There was no shame in Sheriff finishing third behind Real Sociedad and Man United in their Europa League group this season, while Gordan Petrić's Partizan finished second in Europa Conference League Group D, edging out German side Köln and finishing level on points with section winners Nice.

Key stat
Partizan visited Stadionul Zimbru, where Sheriff are playing their UEFA games this season, in the 2020/21 Europa League second qualifying round, Bibras Natcho scoring the only goal in extra time in a one-off tie against FCSG.

Highlights: Partizan 2-0 Köln

Ludogorets vs Anderlecht (21:00 CET)

Ludogorets host Belgian opponents for the second time in their history, with Anderlecht looking to follow in the footsteps of the Royal Antwerp side that beat the Bulgarian champions 2-1 in Razgrad in the 2020/21 Europa League group stage. Qualifying for the knockout round play-offs was one of the few highlights of a lean autumn for the Brussels club, while Ante Šimundža's Ludogorets bowed out of the Europa League group stage despite beating Roma 2-1 in their opening game. Incidentally, Šimundža played in Belgium for La Louvière in 2001.

Key stat
Anderlecht's two previous away games in Bulgaria comprise a 2-2 draw at CSKA-Sofia in 1962 and a 6-1 win at Lokomotiv Sofia in 1977.

Highlights: Silkeborg 0-2 Anderlecht
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