What to look out for in the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-off second legs
Thursday, 23 February 2023
CFR Cluj have a surprise in mind against Lazio, while Trabzonspor face another emotional test and Artem Dovbyk needs to bounce back in the goals race.
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Eight places in the 2022/23 UEFA Europa Conference League round of 16 draw will be filled in Thursday's knockout round play-off second legs.
In this piece presented by Enterprise, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the decisive fixtures.
Knockout round play-off second leg fixtures: 23 February
CFR Cluj vs Lazio (0-1)
Dnipro-1 vs AEK Larnaca (0-1)
Partizan vs Sheriff (1-0)
Anderlecht vs Ludogorets (0-1)
Gent vs Qarabağ (0-1)
Basel vs Trabzonspor (0-1)
Lech vs Bodø/Glimt (0-0)
Fiorentina vs Braga (4-0)
Who is through to the last 16?
AZ Alkmaar (NED)
İstanbul Başakşehir (TUR)
Slovan Bratislava (SVK)
West Ham (ENG)
What to look out for
Cluj looking for Lazio upset
"The best team won" was Dan Petrescu's candid assessment after his CFR Cluj side's opener against Lazio, a narrow 1-0 defeat in Rome against opponents reduced to ten men early on following Patric's red card. Ciro Immobile made the difference, but that difference remains slender as the teams prepare to reconvene in Romania – where the Railwaymen have won five of their last six home games in Europe, conceding just one goal.
Petrescu can also take heart from his own playing days. The former defender contested four matches at home to Lazio and twice ended up on the winning side, helping Foggia record a pair of 2-1 victories in Serie A. His sole defeat came in Europe – a 2-1 loss for Chelsea in the 1999/2000 UEFA Champions League – but the 55-year-old is plotting a different outcome on Thursday, declaring: "We will do everything to win."
Emotional task for Trabzonspor
Trabzonspor's 1-0 first-leg victory against Basel was an intensely poignant occasion, the home side overcoming a swell of emotions to win just ten days after the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. "Football has a power to heal and unite," said Trabzonspor coach Abdullah Avcı, who praised his players for keeping their focus and sticking to the game plan.
They will need to draw on those resources once again in Switzerland, where Basel will look to cancel out Jens Stryger Larsen's goal en route to clinching a berth in the last 16. Interim coach Heiko Vogel underlined Basel's intentions after the opening leg and his side would gladly settle for a repeat of their last encounter with Trabzonspor at St. Jakob-Park: a 2-0 success in the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League.
Dnipro-1 counting on Dovbyk
Dnipro-1 may be flying high at the top of the Ukrainian Premier League, but their hopes of making a splash in Europe hang in the balance after their 1-0 loss to AEK Larnaca in Cyprus. For once, prolific centre-forward Artem Dovbyk was unable to leave his mark – allowing Luka Jović to overtake him as the Europa Conference League's top scorer with his double for Fiorentina against Braga.
Dovbyk's five goals so far leave him one behind Jović in this season's competition, but he will be hungry to respond as his team seek a turnaround. Doubly so, given that the 25-year-old was kept quiet when Dnipro lost 5-1 on aggregate to AEK in last August's Europa League qualifiers, though he does boast recent experience of scoring against Cypriot opposition: two goals in a 3-1 victory at Apollon Limassol during the group stage.
Where is the 2023 UEFA Europa Conference League final being played?
The Eden Arena in Prague, Czechia, 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.