Tuesday, 18 April 2017
Leicester fight back but Griezmann a class above as Atletico advance in UCL
Brave Leicester's Champions League dream ended as they were knocked out in the quarterfinals 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 semifinals 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 semifinals in search of their maiden Champions League crown.
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.
The hosts brought out the pyrotechnics and smoke before kickoff but Atletico remained unmoved and engineered a nerveless start where neither side fashioned an opening.
Noticeably they looked to get players behind the ball when Leicester were in possession, condensing the space and refusing to offer the Foxes a high defensive line to exploit.
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.
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 fighting 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.
A different game emerged from one Atletico had so much control over as Leicester rediscovered their belief and Mahrez bent a free kick just over.
The Foxes relentlessly pressed but could not find another goal and, with Atletico content to rely on their away goal, the visitors offered little going forward.
It was ultimately enough as Craig Shakespeare's Leicester gallantly bowed out.