Last season, Leicester City did the impossible and lifted the English Premier League trophy after being 5,000-1 odds at the beginning of the year. On Tuesday, their dreams of advancing even further in the UEFA Champions League ended in defeat.
The Foxes, who were making their first ever appearance in the European club competition, fell on a 2-1 two-legged aggregate against last season’s runners-up Atletico Madrid.
Led by manager Craig Shakespeare, who is currently leading the team in a caretaker role, started off his tenure by winning his first six matches in charge. Five of those wins came in the Premier League, which helped the Foxes jump out of a relegation scrap at the bottom of the table. The other was a second-leg victory over Sevilla in the UCL Round of 16.
Following a 1-0 first-leg defeat at the Vicente Calderon last week, Leicester knew returning to the King Power Stadium could easily help them turnaround a reasonable deficit.
Despite defender Robert Huth out suspended, captain Wes Morgan returned to the Foxes line-up after missing the last six matches with a back issue.
Atletico Madrid had a fairly healthy squad with star striker Antoine Griezmann, midfielders Saul Niguez, Gabi, and Koke rested in their La Liga match this past weekend.
Leicester had the first early offensive chance in the match, as striker Shinji Okazaki had his seventh minute shot saved by Jan Oblak.
Atletico’s first true effort on goal, proved to be the opening goal in the match as Saul Niguez headed home Felipe Luiz‘s cross to the bottom-left corner for a 1-0 lead.
The Spanish international came close to doubling his tally just a minute later, ripping a long-range effort towards goal. Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel made the save.
Foxes leading scorer Jamie Vardy drew Leicester level at 1-1 in the 61st-minute, chipping home from inside the box. It was Vardy’s 13th goal in all competitions this season, and his second in the UCL.
Vardy and second-half substitute Leonardo Ulloa had their later efforts saved by Oblak, who finished with five saves in the match.
Winger Marc Albrighton‘s 93rd-minute forced a final save from Oblak, while Leicester couldn’t muster up a late goal on the ensuing corner-kick. At the final whistle, Atletico Madrid advanced to their second-consecutive semifinal appearance winning 2-1 on aggregate.
Diego Simeone‘s side, who fell to rivals Real Madrid on penalty-kicks in last year’s final, will look to lift their first ever UCL trophy.
Following the match, Shakespeare spoke to BT Sport about his team’s effort despite being eliminated. “In the first half we played really well but the goal changes the game plan – we knew we had to score three – so I had to make the change. There’s no discredit to lose to a team of that caliber. In terms of effort, commitment, application – as a group we were tremendous.”
Win or lose, the effort Leicester City showed in their debut season of this competition was amazing.
In two seasons, they have won their domestic title for the first team ever, and finished in the quarterfinal round of Europe’s top club competition.
That deserves a round of applause in its own.
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