Leicester, April 19 (IANS) Saul Niguez’s first-half goal turned out to be all that Atletico Madrid needed here to defeat Leicester City 2-1 on aggregate and reach the Champions League semi-finals for the third time in four years.
Leicester’s Jamie Vardy’s 61st-minute goal cancelled out Niguez’s 26th-minute strike in the second leg of the quarter-final on Tuesday night but Atletico’s 1-0 win plus an away goal here gave them a comfortable 2-1 win.
Atletico dominated possession in the early going, though it was host forward Shinji Okazaki who got the first chance of the night in the 21st minute, only to send the ball over the crossbar, reports Efe.
Five minutes later, Saul beat Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel with a perfect header after taking a great cross from Filipe Luis.
The visibly deflated Leicester, England’s sole representative at the quarter-finals, found themselves unable to respond and the half ended with Atletico leading 2-0 on aggregate.
But Leicester coach Craig Shakespeare began the second half by making a double substitution: Leonardo Ulloa for Okazaki and Ben Chilwell for Yohan Benalouane.
The Foxes, looking more like the Cinderella team that beat 5,000-1 odds to win the English Premier League (EPL) last season than the squad that just weeks ago was flirting with relegation, pulled level on the night in the 61st minute by Vardy. Chilwell’s shot at the goal was blocked by a flying Stefan Savic, but deflected right towards Vardy, who rifled it home from close range.
Leicester kept Atletico pinned in their own zone and were relentless on the attack. But Atletico, who have reached two finals in the last three seasons, remained tenacious on defecse and managed to see out the match.
“The team managed to get back in the match after the 1-1. They were pushing to score. The rival was extremely hard. They never gave up and persevered until the end. We responded with a very good defensive work,” Atletico chief coach Diego Simeone told his club’s website.
“I’m very happy because once again, these football players have done an extraordinary job.”
Leicester head coach Craig Shakespeare urged his players to take pride in their Champions League journey.
“I’m disappointed to go out but immensely proud of our performance tonight. I thought we ran an excellent team (close) in the form Madrid and we gave it a real shot. The players can be immensely proud of their performance, but we’re ultimately disappointed to go out.
“I hope the benefit is that they want some more of it (Champions League football). They’re very disappointed but they can be proud of what they’ve achieved.”