The Warmdown: Foxes secure passage to Europa League knockout rounds after late equaliser
BRAGA, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 26: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates after scoring their team's third goal with his team during the UEFA Europa League Group G stage match between SC Braga and Leicester City at Estadio Municipal de Braga on November 26, 2020 in Braga, Portugal. Sporting stadiums around Portugal remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Leicester City confirmed qualification from Group G of the Europa League with two games to spare on Thursday night after Jamie Vardy's last-minute equaliser earned them a draw against SC Braga.

The Foxes came from behind three times in the game and looked certain to be leaving Portugal empty-handed after Fransergio Barbosa's 90th-minute strike gave the hosts the lead. However, it was Leicester's number nine who would reply in the dying seconds to ensure European football would return to the King Power Stadium in the new year.

It wasn't all plain sailing for Brendan Rodgers' side though and after a poor first-half display, some inspired substitutions and a strong performance from Kasper Schmeichel were vital to keep Leicester's unbeaten record in Europe intact.

Schmeichel saves prove vital

The score of the game could have been entirely different if it wasn't for the Leicester captain in goal. 

For the majority of the first-half, the Foxes' found themselves under pressure, in particular from striker Paulinho, however the Denmark international was equal to the pressure and on another night, the game could have been out of sight before Leicester had a chance to get back into the clash.

It was also clear to see how much of a leader Schmeichel was from minute one at The Municipal Stadium of Braga. Wearing the armband as usual, the shot-stopper was heard bellowing instructions to his teammates all night long, praising them for their efforts whilst also making them aware of the tasks they needed to undertake.

Schmeichel was one of the stand-out players for the East Midlanders on Thursday. One area where he may need to reassess is his distribution, but that's a small critique in what was otherwise another top performance from the 34-year-old.

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Luke Thomas delivers yet again

It's been an excellent few months for academy graduate Luke Thomas and Thursday night will be another memorable addition to his ever-growing collection of eye-catching performances.

The 19-year-old scored his first senior goal for the Foxes after his well-timed finish from James Maddison's low-drilled cross made it 2-2 in the 78th minute.

By scoring, Thomas wrote himself into the history books by becoming Leicester's youngster ever goalscorer in a major European competition at 19 years and 169 days old.

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After his fast-track to the first team towards the end of last season, the Syston born full-back has well and truly become a valuable member of Brendan Rodgers' squad and his performance as a left wing-back on Thursday showed he may well deserve more opportunities throughout the course of the season. 

The chance to rotate

The draw  for Leicester means they are through to the knockouts of the Europa League, but more importantly, they've done it in quick fashion.

With three wins and one draw, the Foxes now know that regardless of their results in their final two fixtures against Zorya Luhansk and AEK Athens, their passage is assured.

Alongside the Europa League, the East Midlanders have a hectic Premier League schedule, meaning that Rodgers will likely want to rotate his team.

The Northern Irishman hinted that Wilfred Ndidi may play some part in the side's trip to Ukraine next week and that could now be the same for the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Caglar Soyuncu, who are amongst others continuing their recovery to full fitness.

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In addition, the final two European games will also give bit-part players the chance to stake a claim for a regular starting spot, and even a chance for any players from the academy to step up and get a taste of senior football.

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