Leicester heroics will live on forever after courageous Champions League exit at hands of Atletico Madrid

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THERE has been talk of English Heritage nailing a blue plaque to Jamie Vardy’s kitchen wall to commemorate the place where Leicester’s players celebrated their title win.

And after this, it’s all history now. The grandest adventure English football has ever known is finally over.

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Jamie Vardy is dejected on the pitch after Leicester’s defeat to Atletico Madrid

Riyad Mahrez looks shell-shocked after the Foxes were dumped out of the competition

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Riyad Mahrez looks shell-shocked after the Foxes were dumped out of the competition

Before this Champions League quarter-final second leg, the half-and-half scarf salesman on the corner outside the King Power was imploring passing customers to buy “a souvenir of the biggest match in the club’s history.”


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“You’ve been saying that every week for two years,” said one punter.

He probably wasn’t far wrong.

Since April 2015, the Foxes have been holding us in thrall with their tales of the unexpected.

From the great escape from relegation under Nigel Pearson, to the lunacy of their title victory to this European odyssey — which included ditching their miraculous manager Claudio Ranieri midway through the previous tie.

It’s defied logic and reason, it’s been fantastical and bewildering.

Atletico players celebrate at the final whistle

AP:Associated Press

Atletico players celebrate at the final whistle

Now, finally, reality has dawned.

And lifelong fans of a fair-to-middling club in a medium-sized city in the middle of England must feel as though they are on a comedown from some footballing LSD trip as they wake up to a mid-table league berth and an end to European escapism.

Two years ago to the day, Leicester beat Swansea 2-0 here to climb off the foot of the Premier League table, offering daylight to Pearson’s great jailbreak.

Ever since then, it’s been glorious mayhem.

Gutted Leicester fans also lingered after the final whistle

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Gutted Leicester fans also lingered after the final whistle

Even the second half last night was the same, as Leicester carpet-bombed their illustrious visitors.

Atletico’s manager Diego Simeone was hugely complimentary, saying: “It was almost a pleasure to compete against them. We were living in fear all night.”

Wes Morgan, City’s indefatigable captain, had clambered off the treatment table to skipper his side.

He’s been at the centre of it all the way. He was already 30 when the Foxes were promoted to the top flight in 2014 but epitomised the supreme spirit of this rag-tag bunch of misfits and rejects.

A few years ago, the big man would have doubted that his fitness might have been seen as crucial in a European Cup quarter-final.

Saul produced a stunning header to give Atletico Madrid a firm grip on the tie

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Saul produced a stunning header to give Atletico Madrid a firm grip on the tie

But Leicester were desperate for him to shrug off a back injury, especially with his partner Robert Huth suspended. They held a pre-match fitness test. They needn’t have bothered. Lumbago versus potential immortality? There was only ever going to be one outcome.

Morgan lasted 83 minutes, before his hamstring finally went. His courage never did.

He produced a mighty tackle on Yannick Carrasco early on and a cute interception to deny Antoine Griezmann a shooting opportunity.

Then suddenly, on 26 minutes, it seemed like the game was up when Filipe Luis crossed and Saul Niguez guided his header beyond Kasper Schmeichel’s dive. Atletico seemed just too good. They possessed superior technique, they moved the ball better, they were patient, they were savvy.

Jamie Vardy celebrates but his goal was not enough for Leicester

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Jamie Vardy celebrates but his goal was not enough for Leicester

But the thousands of true believers still believed, especially the 11 blokes in blue out in the middle.

They had shredded so many formbooks and written so many far-fetched plot lines that even a 2-0 aggregate deficit against European royalty did not dishearten them.

Craig Shakespeare brought on Leo Ulloa and Ben Chilwell at half-time, switched to a back three and demanded an air of furious urgency from ball-boys through to his players who worked with manic haste refusing to allow any time-wasting. Refusing to allow Atletico even the time to breathe.

It worked. Atletico were pinned back, defending Christian Fuchs’ intercontinental missiles from the touchlines and crosses from Marc Albrighton and Chilwell. Vardy rammed one home, Riyad Mahrez curled a free-kick narrowly over.

Leicester players applaud the crowd after full time

EPA

Leicester players applaud the crowd after full time

All the while there was bedlam in the stands.

Before kick-off they were warned of ‘special effects’ and after the fluttering of 30,000 tinfoil flags, each Leicester player’s name was read out to the accompaniment of dry ice seemingly farted out of the roof of the stands.

But the only special effects they have needed here these past two years have been the heroics of their footballers.

And whatever happens next — whether Shakespeare stays or goes, whether star players head for the hills — their deeds will live on.

There’s no need for blue plaques, either. They’ve shone so brightly they will never truly fade from the mind’s eye, this little lot.

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The King Power Stadium rocks before Leicester’s Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid



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