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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Foxes' euro dream ended by wily Atletico

Vardy strike not enough as Simeone's men book another semi-final spot

Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez scores their first goal. Photo: Reuters
Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez scores their first goal. Photo: Reuters

Leicester's Champions League dream ended as they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Atletico Madrid.

Jamie Vardy's second-half goal secured a 1-1 second-leg draw but could not force a stunning comeback after Saul Niguez's opener.

Atletico reached the semi-finals 2-1 on aggregate but only after they survived a scare following the Foxes' second-half bombardment at the King Power Stadium.

The visitors controlled the tie until Vardy struck and the hosts were reinvigorated as Vardy, Leonardo Ulloa and Riyad Mahrez all went close to adding a second.

Saul's header proved crucial though as Diego Simeone's side - beaten finalists in two of the last three years - squeezed into the semi-finals in search of their maiden Champions League crown.

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And Leicester may now be without captain Wes Morgan - who returned after a six-game absence with a back injury - for the rest of the season after he limped out late with an apparent hamstring injury.

Strikers Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann showed flashes of a partnership but it was the hosts who created the first chance when Shinji Okazaki prodded Vardy's cross high and wide after 20 minutes.

The Foxes were encouraged but the life was sucked out of the King Power Stadium after 26 minutes when Atletico took the lead on the night.

There had been nothing to suggest either side would break the deadlock but Atletico grabbed a crucial away goal when Filipe Luis crossed and Saul, having lost Marc Albrighton, produced a brilliant low header from 16 yards which dropped into the corner.

Leading 2-0 on aggregate, Atletico could relax knowing they had conceded just seven times in their previous 17 Champions League outings.

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates. Photo: Reuters
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates. Photo: Reuters

Mahrez volleyed straight at Jan Oblak as the Foxes tried to respond but the visitors began to offer the kind of European masterclass Leicester had not experienced this season.

Their second string lost 5-0 in Porto in December but this time they came up against a force in Atletico whose game management rendered the Foxes impotent in the first half.

Atletico looked like they could pick Leicester off at will as they kept the ball and almost killed the tie with Griezmann's exceptional work rate underpinning their performance.

The France international was a class above and he almost created a second for Carrasco five minutes after half-time when he breezed past four defenders only for his cross to drift ahead of his strike partner.

Soon afterwards Ben Chilwell, on for Yohan Benalouane at the break, volleyed over before Leicester kept their hopes alive by levelling on the night after 61 minutes.

Again, as in Seville in the last 16, it was Vardy who came up with the goods when he rammed in from close range after Chilwell's deflected drive bounced into his path.

Tails up, the Foxes went for it and Ulloa's goalbound drive was blocked as they pinned Atletico back.

For the first time Atletico were flustered and Vardy nearly grabbed a second in the 67th minute, only for Stefan Savic to throw a leg out at his snap shot.

The Foxes relentlessly pressed but could not find another goal as Atletico held out for the aggregate win.

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