Proud Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare has urged his players to avoid being Champions League one-hit wonders after their European journey was brought to a halt by the resilience of Atletico Madrid in Tuesday's quarter-final second leg.
The Premier League’s only remaining representatives in this season’s tournament put Atletico, finalists in 2014 and 2016, under extreme second-half pressure after Jamie Vardy cancelled out Saul Niguez’s headed opener, although they ultimately fell short.
After a tempestuous campaign, an unlikely Champions League victory was Leicester’s only route into next term’s competition, but Shakespeare has told his trailblazing side to hold lofty future ambitions.
“The whole club – supporters, owners and the especially the players – can be immensely proud of what they’ve achieved,” said Shakespeare, whose team became the first to reach the quarter-finals on their Champions League debut since Malaga in 2012-13.
“I’ve just said to them that they should want more of this and they’ve agreed to a man that that’s what they want.
“We left everything out there, and we needed to. In the second half, even the first half, we played really well. The effort and the commitment we showed second-half, it had them rattled. It’s no discredit to lose to a team of that calibre.
“The momentum was with us after Jamie Vardy’s goal and we needed that second goal when the opportunity came, but it just wasn’t to be.”
Leicester were the lowest scoring side left in the competition but entered the clash knowing they had to score at least once to have any chance of progressing. The early exchanges hinted at a tight, tense affair.
The Foxes’ potential pathway to the last four was made all the more turbulent in the 21st minute when Atletico netted a crucial away goal as Saul powered a downward header from Filipe Luis’ sumptuous delivery across Kasper Schmeichel and into the far corner.
A skied Shinji Okazaki effort from Vardy’s cutback and a tame Riyad Mahrez volley straight at visiting goalkeeper Jan Oblak were all the hosts could muster by half-time against their Champions League-hardened opponents.
Needing three goals to advance, Leicester gave themselves a lifeline on the hour mark when Vardy clinically side-footed into the roof of the net after half-time substitute Ben Chilwell’s half-volley had been deflected into his path.
Another replacement, Leonardo Ulloa, and Vardy saw efforts agonisingly blocked while Wilfred Ndidi lashed wide as Atletico’s perennially robust defence held firm amid an aerial bombardment from the Midlanders.