Tielemans stunner earns Leicester first FA Cup title

Published May 17, 2021
LONDON: Leicester City captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel lift the trophy as their team-mates celebrate after winning the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley.—Reuters
LONDON: Leicester City captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel lift the trophy as their team-mates celebrate after winning the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley.—Reuters

LONDON: Youri Tielemans was preparing for the FA Cup final on Saturday when he received a text message with a clear instruction: “Aim for the top corner.”

When the ball landed at the Leicester City midfielder’s feet, 63 minutes into the 140th final, a powerful shot from 30 metres was aimed just where he had been advised.

It was a sensational way to win the FA Cup for the first time in Leicester’s 137-year history, 1-0 against Champions League finalists Chelsea.

Even sweeter than the strike was Leicester being able to celebrate in front of their own fans as Wembley Stadium hosted England’s biggest crowd — more than 20,000 who tested negative for the coronavirus — in 14 months.

“Wow, what a finish,” Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said. “I didn’t dare to celebrate because there’s always VAR.”

Not that time. Instead, the video assistant review came to Leicester’s rescue in the 89th minute to prevent Wes Morgan from a moment of heartache.

The 37-year-old club captain had been on the pitch for only seven minutes when he accidentally deflected in former team-mate Ben Chilwell’s cross. But one of those marginal offsides that so irritate players and fans was detected and the roars of Leicester fans were even louder than the moment Tielemans scored.

After losing four finals — the first in 1949 at the old Wembley — Leicester’s name is finally etched onto the cup of world football’s oldest competition. The team from central England is a champion again, five years after Morgan collected the Premier League trophy.

Players such as Chilwell and N’Golo Kante, to Chelsea, have left since that improbable 5,000-1 title triumph but Morgan and matchday captain Schmeichel are still there to celebrate again, this time in a moment tinged with sadness.

Inside the jerseys at Wembley were photos of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s Thai owner until he died in 2018 when his helicopter crashed in flames next to King Power Stadium.

“He is always with us, Khun Vichai,” said Schmeichel before handing the FA Cup on the field to Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who now runs the club.

Also in tribute to Vichai was a banner covering seats in the closed third tier at Wembley, with his quote, “Our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

In a game of few chances, Thiago Silva’s slack pass allowed Leicester to score. Ayoze Perez intercepted the clearance and Luke Thomas passed across to the unmarked Tielemans to drive forward before striking past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

For once, Leicester wasn’t relying on goals from Jamie Vardy, whose work across the pitch was still influential.

Saves from Schmeichel as much as VAR helped to preserve the lead; he used one hand to push Chilwell’s shot onto the post in the 78th and blocked Mason Mount’s volley in the 87th.

“Thank you VAR! What an amazing technology,” said Tielemans.

It’s far from season over for Leicester. There’s another match against Chelsea to come on Tuesday which could clinch Champions League qualification for the second time ever. Sitting third, Leicester hold a two-point lead over Chelsea.

“Today we enjoy, and tomorrow we dust ourselves down and can’t really think about this anymore,” Schmeichel said. “Chelsea are a top-class side and are going to want revenge.”

The west London club have lost consecutive FA Cup finals, with Thomas Tuchel failing just as Frank Lampard did. But Tuchel can still win the biggest prize in club football against Manchester City in the Champions League final on May 29 in Porto.

“We are disappointed and not angry with our performance,” Tuchel said.

Chelsea were a key early stop in Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers’ coaching career, with the youth team around 15 years ago. While Rodgers has won trophies in Scotland with Celtic, he fell short in English football with Watford, Swansea and Liverpool until Saturday. Now, for the first time since Harry Redknapp with Portsmouth in 2008, a British manager has picked up the FA Cup.

“The success of this team and club is getting to positions like this and competing,” Rodgers said. “The so-called bigger clubs are expected to win but our success is competing and if we can perform like today we can go and win. What a day for everyone involved with Leicester.”

WEST HAM’S TOP-FOUR CHANCES FADE

West Ham United might have to settle with qualifying for the Europa League rather than Champions League.

Their hopes of a place in next season’s Champions League were all but ended after a 1-1 draw at Brighton & Hove Albion in one of Saturday’s three Premier League games.

Said Benrahma rescued the point with his first goal for sixth-placed West Ham in the 87th minute to cancel out Danny Welbeck’s chipped finish three minutes earlier.

“It’s obviously horrible because we had the Champions League in our sights,” said West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, who made his return from injury. “We can’t be relying on other teams to lose. We have to go out and win. We’ve drawn too many and lost a few.”

Leeds United are on for a top-half finish in their first season back in the Premier League after 16 years. A 4-0 victory over Burnley was started by Mateusz Klich curling in the opener before halftime, followed in the second half by Jack Harrison and Rodrigo’s double.

Fulham, one the three sides already relegated, lost at Southampton 3-1. Che Adams, Nathan Tella and Theo Walcott were on target for Ralph Hassenhuttl’s men.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021

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