The play-off draw for the Europa Conference League will take place tomorrow, August 2nd, at 2pm CET. The double legged ties are scheduled for August 18th and 25th. Fiorentina have already been confirmed as one of the seeded teams, good news as we look to reach the Group Stage of the competition.
There are 34 teams in this main path draw, and as one of the 17 seeded teams we will avoid the likes of West Ham, Villareal, FC Cologne, along with two clubs knocked out of Europa League, as well as the winners of ties such as Brøndby v Basel, Slavia Prague and Panathinaikos, and Dundee Utd versus AZ Alkmaar.
UEFA, as they are now in the habit of doing, have done a preliminary draw today before the official draw tomorrow, which means Fiorentina’s list of opponents has now been whittled down to eight teams. After the preliminary draw, which always seems to be done in secret with very few, if any details on UEFA’s own website, here are the teams we could face, and one of these will stand in our way of the Group Stage.
Fiorentina will be drawn against one of these pairings:
Sepsi OSK (Romania) v Djurgårdens IF (Sweden)
FK Čukarički (Serbia) v Twente (Holland)
CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) v St Patrick’s Athletic (Ireland)
Lillestrøm (Norway) v Antwerp (Belgium)
As the third qualifying round has yet to be played, even after tomorrow’s draw we still won’t know our exact opponents. We will be left with two possible teams to face as it will be the winner of one of these qualifying round ties which won’t be concluded until August 11th. Whichever team we get, it will be a first as Fiorentina have never played any of the eight clubs in official competition.
Sepsi, based in Sfântu Gheorghe, defeated Olimpija Ljubljana on penalties to get to the third qualifying round. In last season’s Romanian league, they finished down in 10th place out of 16 teams in the regular season. The league then gets divided into a play-off round for the Championship, and ten teams go into the relegation play-out round. Sepsi topped the play-out round which gave them their place in the Conference League. Sepsi also took part in last season’s tournament but went out in the second qualifying round after losing a penalty shoot-out against Spartak Trnava of Slovakia. The Romanian league has already kicked off and Sepsi have won one and drawn two of their three games to date.
Djurgårdens won their second qualifying round clash with Rijeka of Croatia, winning both legs for a 4-1 aggregate win. They finished in third place in last season’s Swedish Allsvenskan championship, just two points behind title winners Malmo. They had been league leaders as late as six games from the end of the season, having spent most of the championship in the top spot. As the Swedish league takes place from April to November, this is a team in the middle of their season and are currently on top of the table. They have won their last six league games in a row, so this is also a team in excellent form, and would be expected to come through this tie with Sepsi.
FK Čukarički finished third in the Serbian league, 40 points off the champions Red Star Belgrade. In the previous round of the Conference League, they easily overcame Racing Union of Luxembourg, running out 8-1 winners over the two legs. The Serbian season is already four games old, and Čukarički have won three and lost one which sees them in third place, three points behind Red Star. In their recent Europa and Conference League history they have never gone past the qualifying rounds.
FC Twente enter the competition at the third qualifying round stage thanks to their fourth-place finish in last season’s Eredivisie. A player to be wary of here would be Ricky van Wolfswinkel, a 33-year-old striker who netted 16 league goals last season along with eight assists. Having previously played with Basel and Sporting Lisbon among others, in European competition he has scored 24 times in 54 appearances. Their German keeper, Lars Unnerstall, kept 12 clean sheets last season in his 32 league games. Their most recent pre-season friendly saw them take on Bologna last Friday, July 29th, and they ran out 4-1 winners having defeated Schalke 04 3-1 the week before. They should be too strong for the Serbian side and would be a tough opponent to face at this stage.
CSKA Sofia came through their second qualifying round tie with FK Makedonija Gjorče Petrov thanks to a 4-0 home win having played out a scoreless draw in North Macedonia. They were runners-up in last season’s Bulgarian league, finishing 21 points behind title winners Ludogorets. Alan Pardew had been an adviser at the club and took over the manager’s role in April. He has since resigned after the team’s fans racially abused players at their own club in a game towards the end of last season. This came just a few days after the club had lost the Bulgarian Cup final to city rivals Levski Sofia. They have since sold their top scorer from last season, but after four games of the new campaign they are level on points with leaders Ludogorets with three wins and a draw.
The Bulgarian side made the group stage of last season’s competition but finished bottom having lost five of their six games. Their first group game saw them travel to take on Roma, the eventual winners of the tournament. CSKA took a shock lead after ten minutes through Irishman Graham Carey, but they went on to lose 5-1 at the Olimpico. Having spent three seasons at the club, Carey has now left to join Scottish side St Johnstone. The club scored two late goals when Roma came to Sofia for the final group game, but they still lost 3-2.
Saint Patrick’s Athletic needed a penalty shoot-out to make it to the third qualifying round. They came from behind to draw 1-1 in Dublin against Mura before a scoreless draw in Slovenia. The shoot-out went to sudden death after both sides missed two of their opening five penalties. After St Pat’s were successful with their next three, Kai Cipot blasted his effort high into the stands and the Dublin side went through. They haven’t won a League of Ireland title since 2013 but they were the winners of the FAI Cup last season, after another successful penalty shoot out against fellow Dublin side Bohemians.
In last season’s league campaign they finished as runners-up to Shamrock Rovers, 16 points behind the champions. St Pat’s most recent game saw them knocked out of this season’s cup competition. Yesterday’s home defeat to Waterford saw the cup holders bow out in the first round. In the league, with the season already heading into the final third, they find themselves in fourth place, and at serious risk of missing out on European competition next season. Their top scorer this season is Eoin Doyle with ten league goals, having previously helped Bolton Wanderers win promotion to League One in England with 19 goals in the 2020/21 season. CSKA will be favourites for this tie but if Pat’s can take a decent result back to Dublin, they could be in with a chance.
Lillestrøm beat Finnish side SJK 6-2 on aggregate in the last round. They finished in fourth place in last season’s Eliteserien, a point ahead of Rosenborg to clinch European qualification. That came having managed to return to the top division after a season in the second tier. The current league season in Norway has already passed the halfway stage, and Lillestrøm are in second place. They are five points ahead of reigning champions Bodø/Glimt and just three points behind Molde with a game less played. Their most recent game, yesterday, saw them win 2-0 away to Sarpsborg, as they look to win their first league title since 1989.
Antwerp reached the third qualifying round after overcoming Drita of Kosovo. After a scoreless draw at home, Antwerp scored twice without reply in the second half of the away leg. Last season they finished in fourth place, and despite being one of Belgium’s oldest and best-supported clubs, they haven’t won a league title since back in 1957 but did win the Belgian Cup in 2020. This season is just two games old, and Antwerp have won both their fixtures. Yesterday saw them record a 1-0 home win over Zulte-Waregem having won their opening game away to Mechelen. That 2-0 victory was thanks to Michael Frey who scored both goals, the Swiss striker was their top scorer last season, and last August scored all five goals in Antwerp’s 5-2 win away to Standard Liege.
While there may not be any massive names in this list, and Twente may be the team to avoid, the disadvantage for Fiorentina is that they will only have one competitive game under their belts before they face the first leg of the play-off round. After tomorrow’s draw we’ll take a closer look at the two possible opponents, but as we won’t know the actual team we will face until a week before the first leg, it won’t give fans much chance to plan especially if the first game ends up as an away tie. The main thing is, we’re back in Europe, and whatever your opinion of the competition, we are finally in the pot for a European draw, however confusing it may be.