Europa Conference League Knockout Round play-off preview
A new competition for 2021-22 may be awkwardly named but it’s proving its worth, Dan Roberts writes, as the Europa Conference League Knockout Round play-off has some games to set pulses racing…
Football traditionalists were overjoyed when UEFA announced that they were going to launch a third competition for the 2021-22 season. After the scrapping of the old Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup, the new [rather clumsily named] Europa Conference League looked set to give smaller clubs a chance of European glory.
But as we reach the knockout stage there are some fairly big names mixing with teams from some of the smaller leagues on the continent. The winners here will progress to the round of 16, where the likes of Feyenoord and Roma await. But this extra playoff round looks just as intriguing, with Marseille, Celtic, Leicester City and PSV Eindhoven all taking part. Sparta Prague against Partizan Belgrade and Fenerbache versus Slavia Prague sound like some very interesting ties – but some of the others do look a little one-sided.
The Europa Conference League – at this knockout round playoff stage – seems to be a mixture of some well-known clubs and some big fishes from some little ponds. For example, Marseille will fancy their chances against Qarabag, even though this competition has already shown that they should take nothing for granted.
Aside from the prospect of those two Prague clubs progressing, Celtic versus Bodo/Glimt pairs a European giant with a tiny club from within the Arctic Circle that has been one of the most entertaining to watch in the last few seasons.
There was much controversy over the case of Tottenham Hotspur and Vitesse Arnhem, as Group G wasn’t settled by the time of the draw after Spurs’ Covid-19 outbreak forced the postponement of their final group game against Rennes. Rapid Wien were waiting in the wings.
The draw for the Europa Conference League Round of 16 will not take place until after these playoff ties have been completed in February. But there is no doubt that the introduction of a third club competition into the UEFA calendar has been a good move.