A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Thursday:
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
UEFA will be delighted to see its latest competition having a couple of high-profile figures for its inaugural campaign. Whether Jose Mourinho and Harry Kane are happy to be those headline acts is another question. It wasn’t long ago that Mourinho was boasting about being the world’s best manager – ”Mine and my coaching staff’s methods are second to nobody in the world,” he said before his firing by Tottenham in April – so he’ll be confident about conquering the Europa Conference League with his new team, Roma, which currently leads Serie A. Indeed, Mourinho can become the first manager to win all three current major UEFA club trophies, having won the Champions League twice (with Porto and Inter Milan) and the UEFA Cup/Europa League twice (with Porto and Manchester United). Roma starts with a home match against CSKA Sofia. As for Kane, he wanted to be playing in the Champions League with Manchester City this season. As it is, the England captain will be in Europe’s third-tier competition, which was created essentially to help countries whose teams cannot realistically compete for the two existing titles. Tottenham, like Roma, is expected to go deep in the Conference League and starts with a trip to French club Rennes. Gibraltar, Estonia and Armenia will have teams in a UEFA group stage for the first time with Lincoln Red Imps, Flora Tallinn and Alashkert starting their campaigns.
The Europa League resumes with its own new format: 32 teams instead of 48 and a new playoff round in February. Nearly every team from lower-ranked countries is now in the Europa Conference League. The Europa League occupies a curious middle ground with no genuine minnows involved and the bigger picture unclear until third-place teams in Champions League groups transfer across to those February playoffs. There they will face the eight runners-up in the Europa groups, in two-leg playoffs for the right to advance to the round of 16. Leicester vs. Napoli is the standout game Thursday. Both teams occupied Champions League qualification places for most of last season then lost on the last day to drop to fifth place in the Premier League and Serie A. Galatasaray vs. Lazio and Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Fenerbahce pair some of the most fervent fans in European soccer. The latter game brings Fenerbahce captain Mesut Ozil back to Germany. A 15-game schedule Thursday is split between 1645 GMT and 1900 GMT kickoffs. Legia Warsaw beat Spartak Moscow 1-0 on Wednesday in a game played a day ahead of the week’s other Europa League games to avoid a clash with Spartak’s cross-city rival Lokomotiv Moscow, which hosts Marseille on Thursday.
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