Europa Conference League Round of 16: Who will reach the quarterfinals?

The official Europa Conference League matchball (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
The official Europa Conference League matchball (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images) /
There is a lot of pressure on West Ham in the Premier League, but can they stay perfect in this season’s Europa Conference League? (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
There is a lot of pressure on West Ham in the Premier League, but can they stay perfect in this season’s Europa Conference League? (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images) /

Europa Conference League group winners return for Round of 16

And then there were 16.

We have reached the last 16 of this season’s UEFA Europa Conference League. This round will see the tournament’s group winners compete against the winners of the knockout round playoffs, which took place in February.

This Europa Conference League round provides fans with seven first-time matchups in Europe, plus a repeat of a group stage meeting.

Here is a preview of the games, along with predictions as to who will move on to the Europa Conference League quarterfinals.

Lazio vs AZ Alkmaar

Once again, an Italy vs Netherlands pairing takes place in the Conference League. For the third time in the competition’s young history – fourth if including qualifying – an Italian side will square off against Dutch opposition. The first leg will take place on Tuesday due to a city clash with Lazio and Roma.

So far, the Italian team has come out victorious on each of the previous occasions: Roma beating both Vitesse and Feyenoord in winning last season’s title, and Fiorentina getting past Twente in this summer’s playoff round.

Lazio’s last Round of 16 appearance in Europe saw them trounced by Bayern in the 2020/21 Champions League. They faltered at the hands of Porto in last year’s Europa League knockout playoffs. Now, the Biancocelesti has a second Dutch opponent in Europe this season, having faced Feyenoord in the Europa League group stage in the fall.

For the second year running, AZ will compete at this stage of the Conference League. A year ago, it was Bodø/Glimt that toppled the Alkmaar club in this round. Winners of Group E, the Dutch regulars have a 3-1-2 record against Italian teams in the past.

This is quite possibly the tie of the round. Two established teams playing at this high level. Pretty much anything could happen in this tie. Despite both clubs’ inconsistencies this season, I side with Lazio here. They have more European experience within their squad and seeing they play at home first, I think it will work to their advantage.

AEK Larnaca vs West Ham

Likely the most lopsided fixture of the round, Cypriot side AEK Larnaca will be up against it. Last season’s Europa League semifinalists West Ham is the opposition, and although the Irons have not had the best of campaigns domestically, they will be overwhelming favorites.

Stuck in an enthralling title race with APOEL, AEK Larnaca is playing springtime European football for the first time. In fact, this is just the third campaign in which the  Kitrinoprasinoi will be participating in group stage football. In what is their first season in continental football since 2019/20, AEK has surpassed all expectations to reach this round. Getting past their more fancied English opponents would be one of the great upsets in the Conference League’s history.

On the other side of the coin, things have not looked good for West Ham domestically. Going into the clash off a 4-0 hiding at Brighton on the weekend, the pressure is mounting on David Moyes. A perfect 8-0-0 in the Conference League looks good on the Londoners, but their 4-3-4 record on the calendar year highlights their unconvincing showings of late.

This will be the first time West Ham faces Cypriot opposition, likewise for AEK against an English club. I will go with the favorites West Ham to pull through and reach the last eight. While fellow Cypriot side APOEL created one of the biggest shocks in a European knockout round clash, I cannot see AEK repeating that here.

Sheriff Tiraspol vs Nice

A first quarterfinal since 1959/60 is possible for Nice as they face Sheriff, the side who has a stranglehold on the Moldovan League title.

Winners of the last seven Moldovan championships and 20 of the last 22, Sheriff has plenty of European experience to count on. This is their second successive campaign playing in knockout football. Losing to Sporting Braga in the Europa League knockout playoffs a year ago, the Tiraspol-based side is more than capable of springing another surprise.

Nice is on a wonderful run of form, going unbeaten in nine games since their shock Coupe de France setback at Le Puy-en-Velay. Les Aiglons last played springtime European football in 2017/18, losing to Lokomotiv Moskva in the Europa League Round of 32. Winning the Group of Death over Partizan Belgrade, Köln and Slovácko, Nice is battle-tested, and will surely be ready for Sheriff’s challenge.

The first leg on Thursday will be Sheriff’s fourth competitive match in 2023. Given the fact that they are the underdogs in this tie, having a lack of competitive fixtures will likely do them in here. That, along with Nice’s impressive form, gives me reason to go with the Ligue 1 team.

Anderlecht vs Villarreal

The only pairing in this round to see two former European winners go at it, Villarreal will take on Anderlecht in what is a pivotal clash for both teams at this point of the campaign.

The record Belgian champions are playing knockout football for the first time in six years. In their previous outing at this stage, the Paars-Wit knocked out APOEL in the 2016/17 Europa League. Their meeting with Villarreal yields a very different challenge to that game though. Anderlecht is 3-2-8 against Spanish teams in Europe this century, which shows just how hard they will have it.

Villarreal’s only matchups against Belgian opposition ended 2-1 in their favour; home and away against Club Brugge in the 2010/11 Europa League group stage. The Yellow Submarine returned to winning ways of late, picking up back-to-back wins in LaLiga. The highest ranked team left in the Conference League (by club coefficient), Quique Setién’s side will be one of the favourites to lift this year’s trophy.

I fully expect Villarreal to move on here. They look more composed at this point of the season. Anderlecht’s difficult run of fixtures do not help. Furthermore, the Spaniards have a much better European record of late, which will tip the tie in their favour for me.

Fiorentina vs Sivasspor

For the second time this season, Fiorentina will face Turkish opposition in the Europa Conference League, having met Basaksehir in the group stage. They go into this one as heavy favourites against Sivasspor, who will play their maiden knockout round games in UEFA club competition.

The Viola has caught form at the perfect time. With a 4-1-0 record in their last five outings, Vincenzo Italiano’s side has found the net 13 times in that run. Fiorentina also has the most goals in the Europa Conference League proper this season, scoring 21 times in eight games. Should they keep this goal-scoring record up, they will go through easily.

Finding themselves just 3 points above the relegation zone in Turkey, things have not gone smoothly for Sivasspor. Surprising winners of Group G, the Turks have scored in all four away matches in Europe this season. The Yiğidolar do go into this tie in good form, winning five of their last seven. They will have to use that to their advantage here.

Fiorentina seems to have found their momentum at the right point. It would take an almighty effort for Sivasspor to eliminate their Italian opponents. Therefore, I favour La Viola to progress.

Lech Poznan vs Djurgården

Last month, Lech Poznan won their first European knockout tie at the third time of asking. Now, they face Sweden’s Djurgården in the last 16.

Thursday will be Lech’s 10th competitive game in 2023. Currently boasting a 4-3-2 in their previous nine, this is the furthest the Polish side has ever gone in Europe. Third place in the Ekstraklasa, the chance is there for Lech to make a maiden European quarterfinal.

Djurgården’s first ever European tie came against a Polish side, as they swept Gwardia Warszawa aside 4-1 on aggregate in the 1955/56 European Cup. Nearly 70 years later, the Swedish side will meet another Polish team, looking to progress to the quarterfinals as they did at Gwardia’s expense. Dju won all three of their competitive games this year, each coming in the Svenska Cupen.

This will be a fascinating tie I think. Dju has been in scintillating form in Europe this season, boasting a 10-1-1 record. Lech is 7-6-3, which is not bad themselves. Neither club has lost at home in Europe in 2022/23, making this one even more intriguing. I am going to go with Djurgården in this one. It will be a very close tie, but I have a sneaky feeling the Swedish team will progress.

Basel vs Slovan Bratislava

Just months after the two met in Group H, Basel and Slovan Bratislava will renew acquaintances with the stakes being higher.

Basel is no stranger to knockout football in Europe. Losing at this stage last year to Marseille in the Europa Conference League, the Swiss giants will look to go one better this time around. It has been an inconsistent season for Basel, which explains why they failed to win Group H despite being the Pot 1 team. A comeback in the knockout playoffs against Trabzonspor got them to this round, but they can not afford another slip-up.

Despite being unbeaten this calendar year, Slovan has only won two of six games in normal time. Plus, they ceded the league lead in Slovakia to DAC Dunajska Streda recently. In the thick of a close title race domestically, the 1968/69 UEFA Cup Winners Cup winners have a lot on their plate. Losing just once in the group stage, they have a legitimate shot at moving on here.

Slovan shocked Basel 2-0 in Switzerland on Matchday 3 before playing to a thrilling 3-3 draw at home just a week later. Will Basel learn from their mistakes in the first two meetings? I have the feeling that they will. Given their knockout round pedigree, I have to tip the Swiss side to prevail here.

Gent vs Istanbul Basaksehir

One of three sides to be playing in this round for the second year running, Gent faces the challenge of Istanbul Basaksehir in their Round of 16 game. The second leg in Turkey will be played on Wednesday 15 March instead of the Thursday.

De Buffalo’s were involved in a nervy tie against Qarabag last time out, needing penalties to get past their Azeri counterparts. Now Gent is just one round away from matching their best European performance, which came in the 1991/92 UEFA Cup. Fifth in Belgium after 28 games, Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s team has come up clutch when they had to. Here, they face what some may consider their toughest opponent in Europe this season.

Basaksehir dropped two straight games for the second time this campaign, seeing them drop out of the top four in Turkey. This is the club’s second appearance at the Round of 16 in Europe. FC København ended their run in the 2019/20 Europa League. The Istanbul side has never lost against a Belgian team, claiming a win and a draw each against Club Brugge and Antwerp.

Next. Europa Conference League Matchday 6: What’s at stake?. dark

This is another tie that could go either way. Two teams who have been shaky at times throughout the year. Both boast enough European experience to get to the quarterfinals. With that said, however, I give the edge to Gent. It will be very tight, but the Belgians have a way when it comes to these types of games. I think that will give them the slight edge.