It was Jamie Vardy who grabbed the potentially crucial away goal but nobody played a more pivotal role in keeping alive Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League hopes last night than Kasper Schmeichel.
The goalkeeper stood strong with series of fine saves – including an early penalty stop from Joaquín Correa – when Leicester looked in danger of being swamped by Sevilla. If that was not enough, he could also be seen venturing out of his box to issue instructions to team-mates, underlining his authority in the Leicester dressing room. And you know what? He loved every minute.
Highlights: Sevilla 2-1 Leicester
“Listen, how can you not enjoy nights like this?” said Schmeichel after the English champions’ 2-1 round of 16 first-leg defeat at a raucous Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. “I’ve played League Two [fourth division] in England and to stand here in the last 16 of the Champions League, how can you not be inspired? Being in the Champions League after the journey a lot of us have been on is what you dream of and you just want more of it. Nights like this are what you play the game for.
“They have a chance of winning the Liga,” he added of Sevilla, “so we knew we were going to come up against quality. We knew we were going to have to defend with our lives and ride our luck as well. We did both. Getting the away goal was very important and it keeps the tie alive.”
Schmeichel is a big influence in this Foxes side©Getty Images
That Vardy strike came on 73 minutes, rewarding a second-half recovery aided by Demarai Gray’s arrival off the bench. Even after that, though, Schmeichel had to make a late save from Vitolo. The Dane was grateful to the goal frame on two other occasions, though captain Wes Morgan preferred to credit Schmeichel himself: “He is a big presence in the team, he is a big influence on the boys and when he is called upon, nine times out of ten he produces the goods.”
“He has kept us in the game early on,” noted Marc Albrighton. “If that penalty goes in, who knows what could have happened?”
The sight of a Schmeichel excelling in the UEFA Champions League is nothing new – Kasper’s father Peter won it with Manchester United after all – and Schmeichel Jr’s similarly exacting approach has helped him maintain his standards despite his side’s domestic struggles this term.
Schmeichel: The away goal is vital
The hope now for Leicester is the whole team can draw belief from this overdue show of spirit. Albrighton continued: “We’ve come here and we’ve switched off from the league for a week or so – we’ve not got a game till Monday now so it’s given us a good mental break from the Premier League.”
The Premier League’s 17th-placed club needed a lift from somewhere and this could be it. And like Schmeichel, Albrighton did not hide what it meant to this Leicester squad. “We are a set of players that are most likely never going to play in this competition again, or have never played in it before. It is a fantastic experience and we are going to savour every moment.”