Atletico Madrid reached the Champions League semifinals for the third time in four seasons by ending Leicester’s fairytale European journey on Tuesday, drawing 1-1 at the King Power Stadium to advance 2-1 on aggregate.
Once Atletico grabbed an away goal through Saul Niguez’s first-half header, any hopes of the English champions extending their debut in Europe’s elite competition seemed to be completely extinguished.
Especially since Atletico was looking technically superior, attacking with greater skill and potency and outplaying the European novices.
And yet the spirit that powered Leicester to a remarkable Premier League title triumph returned in the second half as a tactical switch to three at the back by caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare put Leicester in the ascendancy. The subdued atmosphere was lifted by Jamie Vardy’s 61st—minute strike, but leveling the score on a chilly central England night wasn’t sufficient.
A defense as sturdy as Atletico’s wasn’t going to allow Leicester to score the two goals it still required to go through as a succession of shots were intercepted.
England’s last Champions League representatives went out with a fight exactly eight years to the day since Leicester began its dazzling ascent by clinching the third-tier title, with the exhausted players collapsing the turf at the final whistle after pressing with grit and directness.
As Leicester 12th in the Premier League faces up to the reality that it could be many years before the team can contemplate a return to the Champions League, Atletico will try to land the prize the keeps eluding Diego Simeone’s side. It was a finalist in both 2014 and 2016 but beaten by neighbour Real Madrid on both occasions.
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