One long throw. One counter-attack. One poor refereeing decision. One goal. Despite the huge gulf in both experience and quality between Atletico Madrid and Leicester City, that is all that separated the sides at Vicente Calderon as the Foxes yet again survived a Spanish onslaught to leave themselves with a real chance of making even more history.
Antoine Griezmann’s first-half penalty was the least Diego Simeone’s side deserved from a thoroughly dominant display against the Premier League champions, despite the controversy surrounding it, but much like Sevilla in the last-16, they will wonder just how they did not go on to win by far more and put the tie to bed.
Instead, Leicester will arrive at a sold-out King Power Stadium with just a one-goal deficit to overcome in their bid to reach the Champions League semi-final. Much like in Seville, they might not know quite how they managed it, but manage it they did.
Dominated from almost first minute to last, Craig Shakespeare’s side managed to limit the home side to mostly long-range efforts, with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel not quite as busy as he has been in previous rounds. Holding out when under such intense pressure seemed to instil some confidence, and eventually Leicester began to get a foothold.
Christian Fuchs’s long throw from the left-hand side was a testing one, but with three-quarters of the Leicester backline in or around the Atletico area, the visitors could not allow possession to be lost. Instead, Atletico half-cleared, Griezmann nipped the ball past Danny Simpson and the Rojiblancos were away.
1 – Here is Leicester’s average position map for the first half v Atletico Madrid. Isolation. pic.twitter.com/rTdUJQxCSY
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 12, 2017
Referee Jonas Eriksson may have made an error in awarding a spot-kick for Marc Albrighton’s reckless foul on Griezmann, with the contact clearly outside the box, but from there Leicester would have been forgiven for allowing their heads to drop at a ground where very few teams escape with at best a draw.
But since Claudio Ranieri’s sacking this Leicester team has found their self-belief once again and, though Jan Oblak was a spectator for almost the whole 90 minutes in the Atletico goal, Schmeichel too had very little to do.
Shakespeare’s decision to introduce Andy King from the bench at half-time so as to allow Wilfred Ndidi to man-mark Griezmann for the second period slowed the tempo of the home side, with the France international unable to dictate terms as he had done so successfully earlier in the game.
Instead, Atletico kept possession without really creating any clear-cut chances, though a slip from Fernando Torres when bearing down on goal could have resulted in something more than a throw-in had he not slipped at the point of impact. Robert Huth’s booking to rule him out of the second leg was the only black mark on an otherwise satisfactory evening’s work.
That is not to say the second leg will be as comfortable as the victory over Sevilla. Huth’s suspension means Wes Morgan’s recovery from a back injury will be sent into overdrive while Leicester will need to be hugely aware of getting too carried away in chasing the game after Griezmann showcased just how dangerous Atletico are on the counter.
But for now Leicester’s players – unlike a handful of their supporters following some disgraceful scenes in central Madrid earlier in the day – can be very proud of their efforts. Their dream of reaching the final four is very much still alive. This is Leicester, and few would bet against them again pulling off the impossible.