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What to look out for in the UEFA Europa Conference League final

Olympiacos's Moroccan man on a mission, Fiorentina's high risk, high reward approach, the Greece factor and why you should expect drama to the last.

Olympiacos's José Luis Mendilibar and Ayoub El Kaabi, Fiorentina's Cristiano Biraghi and Vincenzo Italiano
Olympiacos's José Luis Mendilibar and Ayoub El Kaabi, Fiorentina's Cristiano Biraghi and Vincenzo Italiano

One-hundred and forty matches down, one to play as Olympiacos take on Fiorentina in the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League final.

In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the decider in Athens. Remember: Every mission matters.

Watch highlights

El Kaabi making up for lost time

This time last year Ayoub El Kaabi was at a crossroads. Aged 29, his first foray into Europe at Hatayspor had been cut short by the huge earthquake that led to his employers' withdrawal from the Turkish top flight, and he was finding his feet during a short-term deal at Qatari club Al Sadd. In August, with little fanfare, Olympiacos made their move. He has not looked back.

El Kaabi's 15 goals this season are more than any African footballer has managed in a single European campaign – some achievement for the Moroccan boy who left school early to work as a carpenter. "You need to remember your past," he said ahead of the final. "This will keep you grounded and motivate you to do even more." More? He will take some stopping in Athens.

All El Kaabi's goals so far

Italiano presses Viola's case

El Kaabi has certainly caught the eye of Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano. "Their centre-forward is scoring consistently, and his team can close up and counter very effectively," he said after sitting down with a pizza to watch the Moroccan dismantle Aston Villa in the last four. "They are a strong, aggressive team, and if they can beat Villa home and away, that means they have real quality."

Italiano has been experimenting with the high press, and though Villa showed that this approach is not without its pitfalls, Fiorentina may adopt the tactic in Athens. "The high press brings advantages; it also carries risk because if the opponents beat the first press then the spaces really open up," said the 46-year-old. "There are ways to avoid them though."

Fiorentina's road to the final

Second time lucky for Fiorentina

"Vincenzo Italiano ages ten years with every season!" captain Cristiano Biraghi said of his coach after Fiorentina sealed their place in Athens. The Viola's penchant for late drama is enough to make anybody go grey, or bald in the case of Italiano. His side needed an added-time winner against Maccabi Haifa in the last 16, then triumphed against Viktoria Plzeň in extra time and registered key goals at the death in the final stages versus Club Brugge.

It is a sign of the Italian side's determination to go one better this season than last; and evidence, perhaps, that they have been battle-hardened by the final 12 months ago, when they were beaten by Jarrod Bowen's 90th-minute winner for West Ham. "We want to make the most of the lessons we learned from last season’s experience," said Italiano. "This is a great opportunity to bring a trophy to Florence."

Last season's final highlights

Olympiacos's strength in numbers

Olympiacos have voyaged vast distances this season: England (twice), Germany, Hungary, Serbia (twice), Türkiye. Their final trip is a short one, though. Just 15km separates Thrylos' Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis home from the AEK Arena – admittedly a journey of several hours by road in the Athens rush hour – and the Greek capital will be a sea of red and white on 29 May.

Those passionate fans will be swept along by a sense of belief that would have seemed preposterous in February when Olympiacos were appointing their third permanent coach of the campaign. Not for José Luis Mendilibar, who is looking to repeat last season's feat of taking over a struggling team in spring and guiding them to a UEFA title. "I studied them and, day by day, I started believing we could do something great," said the ex-Sevilla boss. "And then two of us believed, then four, then six..." Now it's many thousand.

What do the 2024 Europa Conference League winners get?


Aside from an eye-catching trophy, the winners gain a place in the following season's Europa League group stage if they have not qualified for the Champions League via their domestic competition.

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