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Wednesday 7 December 2016

This is no victory parade for Leicester

Vardy keen for Foxes to make impact in Europe

Jamie Vardy wants Leicester to give it a good go in the Champions League. Photo: Lee Smith
Jamie Vardy wants Leicester to give it a good go in the Champions League. Photo: Lee Smith
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Eric Vidal/Reuters

England striker Jamie Vardy says Leicester City have no intention of treating the Champions League as some sort of belated Premier League victory parade, and are ready to add another chapter to last season's stunning success story.

The club travel to Belgium to take on Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel Stadium tonight in their opening group fixture, and Vardy says he wants the Foxes to make an impact on the competition, given English clubs have struggled at Europe's elite level in recent years.

"We definitely want to make a mark in this tournament," Vardy said. "We don't just want to sit there and roll over and get beat every time we play in the Champions League.

"We want to give it a good go. I think if we play anywhere near how we have played, especially all last season, then why can't we..." the 29-year-old added.

Vardy said Champions League football would be another chance for the unheralded club from the East Midlands of England to prove themselves on the biggest stage, and that the players were determined to enjoy it.

"But we're not there just to be walked all over," he added.

Claudio Ranieri's side have been placed in Group G alongside Porto, Copenhagen and Brugge, who have picked up just seven points from their opening six Belgian league matches.

Upbeat

And despite remaining upbeat about his club's chances, Vardy knows they will have their work cut out.

"I think every game in our group will be tough. It doesn't matter who you are playing, they've qualified for a reason - because of how well they did last year and they'll only want to improve this season.

"You've just got to turn up and make sure you're on the ball when the game time comes, and hopefully pick the wins up."

Leicester City fans will be hoping 'form is temporary, class is permanent' ahead of their club's Champions League debut, and statisticians say they have reason to be optimistic.

According to Gracenote Sports, the Foxes -- surprise Premier League champions last season and now 16th with one win from four games -- should reach the knockout phase of Europe's premier competition.

Not only that, but they would appear to have a better chance than 2010-11 quarter-finalists and on-song league rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Gracenote's Euro Club Index prediction of the 16 most likely qualifiers from the 32 clubs in the group stages is led, inevitably, by European giants Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

That comes as no surprise, with Barcelona seeking to reach the knock-out phase for the 13th season in a row and Real the 20th time in succession -- one more than Arsenal.

But Claudio Ranieri's Leicester, despite being ranked only the 32nd best team in the overall index, appear a surprisingly high 13th thanks to the luck of the draw with Tottenham predicted to qualify also in 16th place.

Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven do not make the cut on the same reckoning. However, there are no easy games in European football, another old managerial cliche, and upsets are to be expected. Two or three of the underdogs may have their day in this week's 16 matches but fans of Celtic, FC Rostov and Sporting Lisbon should not hope for much.

Gracenote rightly gave Celtic a one percent chance of winning at Barcelona last night, Sporting a four percent possibility at Cristiano Ronaldo's Real tonight. Leicester, on the other hand, are given a 34 percent chance at Belgium's Club Brugge.

First

Opening day shocks can be short-lived, however. In 2012 Belarus side BATE Borisov beat French champions Lille in their first match but neither went through.

And FC Basel's victory over Chelsea in their 2013 opener also signified little, with the Swiss ending up in the Europa League while the English club progressed as group winners.

Avoiding defeat remains a key factor. Only two of the 13 clubs that lost their opening fixtures last season went through - Arsenal and Manchester City.

Club Brugge v Leicester City (KO 7.45) Live RTE 2

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