Leicester ready for European return

Manchester City’s draw at Newcastle on Tuesday brought moderate celebrations for the relegation-threatened home club but nothing compared to the reaction in Leicester. The Premier League leaders, in their 133rd year, are now assured of a top-three finish in England and, with it, a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage.

The Foxes became the sixth team to secure their place in Europe’s premier club competition, and a glance at the previous five gives a good snap shot of the company they now keep: Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.

Yet this could be just the start, with Claudio Ranieri’s side on the verge of a first English title. It is a story which has captivated the world. Many predicted the Midlands club would be embroiled in a relegation fight at the outset of the campaign. Bookmakers were offering odds of 5,000-1 for them to win the league.

Instead, with just four matches remaining Leicester are top, five points clear of Tottenham. Another eight points and a trophy cabinet that currently contains three League Cups, seven second division titles and the third division trophy won in 2008/09 (a mere seven years ago) will be opened again for a totally unexpected prize.

The title would also mean a place in Pot 1 for the UEFA Champions League group stage draw in Monaco on 25 August. Ranieri, for one, is already looking forward to it. “There is the Champions League music,” the Italian said last week. “I love the music. It would be a fantastic achievement; from the dream arrives the reality.”

Leicester’s European experience
2000/01 UEFA Cup first round: L 4-2 on agg v Crvena zvezda
Despite Muzzy Izzet’s away goal at the neutral Gerhard-Hanappi-Stadion in Vienna, Leicester succumbed to a 4-2 aggregate defeat after drawing 1-1 at their old Filbert Street ground courtesy of Gerry Taggart’s header.

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1997/98 UEFA Cup first round: L 4-1 on agg v Atlético Madrid
The reward for lifting the English League Cup in 1997 was a tie with Atlético. Ian Marshall’s 11th-minute strike gave the visitors a shock lead in the Spanish capital, but Juninho’s equaliser and a Christian Vieri penalty handed the hosts a 2-1 advantage. Managed by Martin O’Neill, now Republic of Ireland boss, Garry Parker’s red card at home ended Leicester hopes as the visitors scored twice in the closing stages.

1961/62 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round: L 3-1 on agg v Atlético Madrid
Eventual winners Atlético ended Leicester’s journey in the first round. Jorge Alberto Mendonça’s last-minute equaliser in England earned the Madrid outfit a draw, and just over a fortnight later they completed the job with two goals in the last half-hour, the first a penalty.

1961/62 European Cup Winners’ Cup preliminary round: W 7-2 on agg v Glenavon
Under the club’s longest serving manager, Matt Gillies, Leicester made light work of Northern Irish side Glenavon on their European debut. James Jones gave the hosts a surprise lead in Lurgan but three goals in seven minutes before half-time swung the tie Leicester’s way. They added another after half-time, and wrapped things up back in England.

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