Soccer Europa Conference - Play-Offs 24 February 2023
Basel vs Trabzonspor - Match Preview
Interim Basel manager Heiko Vogel admits his team are desperate to “make up” for being “punished” by Trabzonspor in the first leg of last week’s UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) knockout round play-off. Jens Stryger Larsen’s goal consigned the Swiss side to a 1-0 defeat on an emotional night at the Şenol Güneş Stadium, just days after the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria.
Basel followed that result up by conceding a 96th-minute equaliser in a 2-2 league draw with Servette at the weekend, meaning they are yet to keep a clean sheet in seven games since the World Cup (W2, D2, L3). In the midst of that form, then-manager Alexander Frei was sacked by Vogel, who only a month earlier had been installed as Sporting Director and now finds himself in the hot seat.
The Swiss side might be confident of overturning the deficit, though, as Trabzonspor are on a run of five successive away defeats in European football, conceding at least two goals on each occasion. Indeed, Abdullah Avcı’s side has an extensive problem on the road both domestically and abroad, winning just one of their nine away trips in all competitions (D2, L6).
That has led Trabzonspor defender Stefano Denswil to warn his teammates that “the game is still open” as the Turkish outfit looks to win a UEFA post-group stage knockout tie for the first time in their history! They are also looking to avenge a defeat to Roma at the same stage of the UECL last season and should be reasonably high on confidence thanks to a run of five wins from their last seven outings in all competitions (L2).
📋 Key battle: Basel’s on-loan star Andi Zeqiri has lost just one of his nine goalscoring appearances for any club this season (W5, D3), including two wins and two draws in the UECL. He will be trying to outscore Trabzonspor’s Trezeguet, who is unbeaten in 12 goalscoring appearances (W8, D4) but has netted only twice from a dozen games in European football.
⚡ Hot stat: Trabzonspor have scored the first goal in 12 of their last 15 competitive matches (W9, D2, L4).
Fiorentina vs Braga - Match Preview
Fiorentina made a resounding statement in the first leg of this UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) knockout playoff round tie, strolling to a 4-0 demolition of Braga that marked their fifth straight victory in the competition. Aside from practically guaranteeing progress to the Round of 16, the result also gives coach Vincenzo Italiano an excuse to rest his main aces if he wants – such as Luka Jović, who tops the UECL scoring charts after his first-leg brace.
Even with the ongoing distraction of avoiding a Serie A relegation battle and after only managing a 1-1 weekend draw vs Empoli, Fiorentina are fancied to extend an unbeaten UECL home record (W3, D1). Yet, the lack of clean sheets in that return might mean a full-strength defence, just to completely rule out any threat of a comeback while providing the Viola with an ideal platform to chase their first major continental honours since the 1960/61 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Later in 1961, Braga’s fellow Portuguese club Leixões famously became the first side ever to completely overturn a four-goal aggregate deficit in any UEFA competition (W 7-6 agg. vs La Chaux-de-Fonds). Braga must aim to emulate this feat to progress, and they know that simply going broke is the only chance they will have of achieving what currently seems like mission impossible.
But this might not be Minhotos’ highest priority, as Braga is still within just two points of the Primeira Liga’s second automatic UEFA Champions League group stage qualification spot, after Sunday’s 2-0 win vs Arouca. That only further adds to the ‘free hit’ feel of this clash, the eve of which interestingly marks the 16th anniversary of Braga’s only previous away win vs Italian opposition (1-0 vs Parma, UEFA Cup).
📋 Players to watch: As well as rescuing a point at the weekend, Fiorentina’s Arthur Cabral also netted a brace in the first leg, with all three goals arriving inside the closing 20 minutes. As for the visitors, Simon Banza scored against Arouca on Sunday and sparked a comeback win in Braga’s last away game (W 2-1 vs Maritimo), making it just one defeat (W18, D4) in goalscoring appearances since the start of 2021/22.
⚡ Hot streak: None of Fiorentina’s last ten home games have separated the sides by a margin of 2+ goals.
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