As a club, Leicester are far from experienced on the continental football scene but their upcoming fixture will not be their first on that stage. Ahead of Thursday’s curtain-raiser in the East Midlands, we take a look at how the Foxes have previously fared in European competition.
First taste of European football
Leicester’s first participation in football outside of the United Kingdom came way back in 1961 following defeat in the FA Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur. As Spurs had won the league and confirmed their place in the European Cup, the Foxes, led by Matt Gillies, took their place in the preliminary round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
The first game took the Foxes all of 357 miles as they were drawn against Northern Irish side, Glenavon. Whilst it was far from the exotic location the players would have been expecting, Leicester cruised into the main draw as they followed up a 4-1 victory at Windsor Park with a 3-1 win at Filbert Street.
The next round took Gordon Banks and co much further, this time the destination was the Spanish capital. Unbeknown to anyone at the time, they had been drawn to play out the first episode of what would turn out to become a rivalry with Atletico Madrid spreading across more than 50 years. A Ken Keyworth goal was enough to earn a 1-1 home draw but the reigning Copa del Rey winners progressed with a 2-0 win in the second leg at the Vicente Calderón.
Back on familiar ground
It would be another 36 years until Leicester City would be drawn out of a European hat and this time, it was the UEFA Cup that they found themselves involved with. Martin O’Neill’s side earned their place amongst some of the continent’s biggest clubs as a result of their second Worthington Cup triumph.
Once again, a visit to Madrid loomed and a victory for the Foxes looked a real possibility for a large part of the game following Ian Marshall’s opener after 11 minutes. However, with less than a quarter of the game to be played, the Spanish giants produced a three-minute comeback thanks to goals from Juninho and Christian Vieri.
A second leg on Filbert Way gave Leicester the opportunity to secure a famous result and as the visitors were reduced to 10 men just after half time, supporters had become increasingly confident of progression to the next round. That confidence soon turned to fury as Garry Parker was shown a second yellow card for taking a free-kick too quickly before Muzzy Izzet was denied what looked a clear penalty to everyone inside the stadium.
With tempers boiling over on the pitch, it was the experience of the Atletico players that won out as Juninho and Kiko scored late goals to dump an angry O’Neill and his players out of the UEFA Cup.
European champions face the Foxes
The Irishman was not done there though and more success in the Worthington Cup brought European football back to Filbert Street in 1997. Usually being drawn alongside Red Star Belgrade, European Cup winners in 1991, would have meant a trip to Serbia was on the cards but civil unrest led to the game being played in Austria as UEFA confirmed a neutral venue for the second leg.
In the first leg in Leicester, a nightmare start saw Milenko Ačimovic score one of the competition’s fastest ever goals but that was soon cancelled out by a Gerry Taggart equaliser as the teams played out a 1-1 draw. Spirits were high amongst supporters with an away win being all that stood between them and a place in the next round but it was not to be as Red Star won 3-1 in Vienna, sending the Foxes crashing out in the first round.
A seat at the top table
Along with the miracle of the 2015/16 Premier League-winning season came the mouth-watering prospect of a place in Pot 1 of the UEFA Champions League in Leicester’s first campaign in the competition. A fortuitous draw placed Claudio Ranieri and his players in a group alongside Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge with a trip to the latter being the club’s first taste of elite European football.
Marc Albrighton got the Foxes off to a perfect start as he bundled a Luis Hernandez long throw into the back of the net. Riyad Mahrez stole the show from there as his rocket free-kick and calm penalty secured a 3-0 win in one of the club’s most memorable fixtures to date. That victory was followed up by another three points as Islam Slimani’s first European goal for the club saw them squeeze past Porto in a hard-fought 1-0 win in the club’s first home Champions League fixture.
The scoreline was the same in the third match as Leicester made it three out of three thanks to a deft Mahrez flick which proved enough to narrowly defeat Copenhagen on Filbert Way. In the reverse fixture, it was Kasper Schmeichel who stole the headlines on his return to his native country as his last-minute save extended his side’s unbeaten run to four matches without conceding a single goal.
The Dane’s goal was finally breached in the fifth match but José Izquierdo’s bullet strike paled into insignificance as Brugge were beaten 2-1 in the East Midlands following Shinji Okazaki’s first Champions League goal and another for Mahrez. This not only confirmed Leicester’s place in the last 16 but they secured top spot in the group which turned out to be important as a heavily rotated side were beaten 5-0 on their travels to Estádio do Dragão against Porto.
More Spanish opposition
A trip to Spain beckoned in the first knockout round but this time it was not Atletico (not yet anyway) as Sevilla were the club drawn alongside the Group G winners. Despite the Foxes really struggling in the Premier League, their form in Europe was impressive and a late Jamie Vardy away goal meant the Champions League dream was still alive after a 2-1 loss in Seville in the first leg.
In arguably the most famous night in the history of the club, Leicester overturned the deficit in the second leg with goals from title-winning ever presents Wes Morgan and Albrighton. A late penalty save from Schmeichel, who had also kept one out in the first leg, meant Leicester City would be one of the last eight names in the hat in the Champions League.
Atletico rivalry revived
With Foxes supporters desperate to watch their team play in one of Europe’s truly iconic stadia, they were left underwhelmed as yet another trip to the Vicente Calderon was confirmed in the quarter-final draw.
The first leg was played in the Spanish capital and provided the stage for Craig Shakespeare’s European debut following the untimely sacking of an underperforming Ranieri. Leicester were once again on the receiving end of some questionable officiating as Atletico were awarded a penalty for Albrighton’s rash challenge on Antoine Griezmann which had clearly taken place outside the 18-yard box. The Frenchman dispatched the spot-kick, leaving the visiting side with plenty to do as they had to overturn another first-leg deficit but this time, without the benefit of an away goal.
A well-placed Saúl Ñíguez header early in the second leg made the task even harder and despite a spirited performance, the Foxes could only muster a single goal courtesy of Vardy, who Diego Simeone later admitted to being a huge admirer of. A narrow exit at the hands of Atletico in the quarter-final was not only a respectable way for the Premier League champions to bow out in their maiden Champions League campaign, but it was met with wide praise across Europe.
With the next chapter of Leicester City’s continental story just about to begin, will it be one that mirrors the success of Ranieri’s, and then Shakespeare’s, side back in 2016/17?