As we approach the end of this season's group stages in UEFA competitions, football fans are left wondering about the fate of their favourite teams.
The recent format change, which coincided with the advent of the UEFA Europa Conference League, has introduced a playoff stage that is often misunderstood.
This article aims to shed light on this little-known playoff stage and explain how it offers a lifeline to some big UEFA Europa League teams.
We are here to explain the Europa Conference League knockout stage playoffs.
Who enters the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout play-offs?
Ahead of the last 16 of the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League, certain teams will participate in a two-legged playoff tie to earn the right to compete in the next stage of the competition.
This knockout stage playoff pits those teams which finish second in their groups with teams that finish third in their UEFA Europa League groups.
This means eight big clubs from UEFA's second-tier competition will drop down to enter this playoff stage, where they will meet the UEFA Europa Conference League group runners-up.
The winners of those two-legged playoff ties will then reach the Europa Conference League last 16 proper, where they will face off against the eight teams which won their Europa Conference League groups.
Who might play a Europa Conference League knockout stage playoff tie this season?
As things stand, entering the final game week of the 2023/24 group stage, the following teams are currently second in their Europa Conference League groups, and thus set to enter the playoff phase:
Group A: Slovan Bratislava
Group B: Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Group C: Dinamo Zagreb
Group D: Bodo/Glimt
Group E: Legia Warsawa
Group F: Ferencvaros
Group G: Eintracht Frankfurt
Group H: Ludogorets
If these teams do miss out on the top spot and have to settle for second place in their groups, they could face one of these teams, currently third in their respective UEFA Europa League groups, in the playoff:
Group A: Olympiacos
Group B: AEK Athens
Group C: Sparta Prague (could also be Rangers)
Group D: Sturm Graz
Group E: Union Saint-Gilloise
Group F: Panathinaikos
Group G: Servette
Group H: Molde
If Scottish Premiership team Rangers fail to beat Real Betis away from home in their last game, and Sparta Prague win against Aris, the Glasgow side will drop into this playoff.
When is the draw for the Europa League knockout stage playoff?
The 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-off draw will be held at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday 18 December.
UEFA say they will release seedings and details about the procedure on their website on the morning of the draw.
It should be one of the most exciting parts of the competition for fans as those 16 clubs are whittled down to the eight lucky teams emerging from the playoff and entering the Europa Conference League knockout stage.