BRUGES: The Leicester City fairytale clearly has a few more chapters to come, after this stunning Champions League premiere in Bruges. Claudio Ranieri cannot have envisaged such a stress-free evening as last season’s miracle men produced an emphatic statement in their first ever game at this rarefied level.
Leicester had the swagger of seasoned European veterans and from the moment Riyad Mahrez curled in an exquisite free kick, to extend their lead in the first half, the latest entry into 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 over 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 knock-out stages already seems a genuine possibility. The odds of them winning the Champions League were tumbling on Wednesday, with one bookmaker pricing them at 40-1. “I said to the players when you hear the Champions League music it charges the battery and makes you fight,” said Ranieri.
“It was very important to start our story with a victory and show the reaction after the Liverpool defeat. We hope to go through the group and play again.
“There are another five games, we must stay calm. It’s not easy but we have started well and this will give us confidence.”
Those travelling Leicester 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 over Bruge’s Grote Markt hours before kick-off, covering statues and other local landmarks with Leicester flags, determined to enjoy every minute of their 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.
But nights like these are a reminder of how far Leicester have come and the rollercoaster is showing no signs of shuddering to a halt just yet.
What they say...
From our first chance we scored and from that point we had the control of the match and Brugge had the control of the ball. We played our style. It was good for us to start our story with a victory.
Claudio Ranieri, Leicester manager
I am happy because we have to suffer, but we never gave up. I don’t know if it was a fair result or not, but we believed until the end. You have to play 90 minutes.
Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid boss
I wanted to convince Sergio (Aguero) that his talent in the box to score goals is natural. I cannot teach him that, but he has to know that behind there is a team that’s going to help him, if he’s going to help, and that is what I want to convince him.
Pep Guardiola, Man City coach