BRUGES: The Leicester City fairy tale clearly has a few more chapters to come, after this stunning Champions League premiere in Bruges. Claudio Ranieri cannot have envisaged a more stress-free evening as last season's miracle men produced an emphatic statement in their first game at this rarefied level.
Leicester had the swagger of seasoned veterans in Europe and from the moment Riyad Mahrez curled in an exquisite free kick to extend their lead in the first half, the latest entry into the Foxes' history never looked in doubt. It felt like a return to the verve and vigour of last season and any fears over damage from Saturday's 4-1 humbling at Liverpool, their heaviest defeat in more than 12 months, were dispelled with a clinical team performance that embarrassed their hosts.
Leicester will face far more capable teams than Club Brugge in Group G, with the Belgian title holders completely blown away, but progression to the knockout stages already seems a genuine possibility on this evidence.
Those travelling supporters in the corner of the Jan Breydelstadion will not be waking up from the dream any time soon and the celebrations will have continued long into the balmy night. They swarmed all across Bruges's Grote Markt hours before kick-off, covering statues and other local landmarks with Leicester flags, determined to enjoy every minute of this brave new world.
It has been 16 years since Leicester last experienced European football, but competing in the Champions League seemed light years away as recently as 18 months ago when they were scrapping to avoid relegation. The comparisons with Nottingham Forest's miracle men of the late 1970s have been overplayed, for Leicester would have to win the Champions League two years running to come anywhere near Brian Clough's side.
But nights like these were a reminder of how far Leicester have come under Ranieri. Eight years ago Leicester were competing against the likes of Hartlepool and Colchester in League One yet are now spending pounds 29?million on new strikers. Islam Slimani, the club's record buy from Sporting Lisbon on deadline day, was thrown in for his debut and it will be interesting to see how the Algeria international performs for Leicester, following a lengthy pursuit that has traversed three transfer windows.
Nerves were inevitable and Leicester could have been behind after just three minutes. Jose Izquierdo was given far too much space to advance on goal, with Wes Morgan caught out in defence, and the Club Brugge attacker sent his shot wide of the bottom right as Kasper Schmeichel raced off his line. It proved a costly miss for the home team, for Leicester were ahead two minutes later and on the way to another famous night.
Luis Hernandez's huge throw was flicked on by Brugge midfielder Hans Vanaken, over goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle, and Marc Albrighton had a simple task to sweep the ball home from a few yards out. Released by Aston Villa two years ago as a free agent, Albrighton's career path encapsulates Leicester's own capricious journey.
Brugge were poor and it is no surprise their defence of the Belgian league title has been far from impressive so far. They have lost three of their six games and were underwhelming, struggling to breach the Leicester defence after wasting their early opportunity.
A second Leicester goal seemed inevitable and it came with a devastating free kick from the on the half-hour mark. After Jamie Vardy was brought down outside the area by Timmy Simons - who was fortunate not to be sent off - Mahrez bent a wonderfully weighted shot into the far corner to kill off the contest. Confidence was growing and Butelle had to be alert to tip over an outrageous 35-yard volley from Danny Drinkwater late in the half.
Vardy's pace on the counter-attack against such a hesitant back four was creating genuine problems and the England international was heavily involved for the third goal just after the hour.
After another trademark dash into the penalty area he nicked the ball past Butelle, who hauled the striker down as he prepared to add the finishing touch. Butelle was only booked, the second home player to escape more lenient punishment from the inconsistent Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos.
Mahrez added his second with a clinical finish from the spot and the chants of "We're just too good for you" from Leicester's fans were impossible to argue with.
Leicester could have added a fourth goal, with substitute Leonardo Ulloa and Mahrez both narrowly failing to convert a cross from the outstanding Albrighton. Demarai Gray, another substitute, also came close but Leicester have sent out a warning that those 50-1 odds might be worth a flutter. Mission Impossible - The Sequel is up and running.