Leicester book a place with Europe’s Elite

Originally published at AsianCorrespondent.com on 11th April 2016
Thai-owned Leicester City show no signs of succumbing to the pressure which many football pundits predicted would derail their incredible Premier League title challenge, and this past weekend they edged closer with yet another win: a win which also secured their place in next season’s Champions League.

Leicester City were away to Sunderland on Sunday afternoon, and the home team proved stubborn opposition for much of game but Leicester City kept their cool and continued pushing for a way through. On the 66th minute James Vardy, who hadn’t scored in the past 6 league games, picked up a long pass from Drinkwater and drove it confidently into the back of the net. Vardy’s goal was met with jubilation by the Foxes’ fans in the away end who began chanting, ‘We’re gonna win the league’. Twenty minutes later, and the win was comfortably secured as Vardy struck for a second time with an injury-time goal, to make it 2 nil.

At the final whistle, the Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri was seen holding back tears as he came onto the pitch to applaud his players, no doubt overwhelmed by the team’s determination and the fact they have now secured a place in next seasons’ Champions League. In great sporting fashion the majority of the Sunderland fans remained after the final whistle to applaud both sets of players.

Sam Allardyce, the Sunderland Manager, eloquently summarised a key factor behind Leicester City’s incredible season, ‘each of their players is playing better and with more consistency than they’ve ever done in their life. That’s the beauty of it: that’s what confidence gives you.’

Entry to the Champions League not only enables Leicester City to compete alongside the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-German, and exposes them to millions more football fans worldwide, but Leicester City will also benefit financially from being in this extremely lucrative competition – a windfall which Leicester City’s Thai owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, would never have expected to land so quickly after having bought the club in 2010 while the Foxes were still playing in the Championship.

There are now just 5 games remaining in this Premier League season and Leicester City need 9 points to secure victory – something they could achieve by winning their next three games. As such, expectations and pressure are certainly building as Leicester City’s fairy tale season moves into the final few games. In a season where many top teams have underperformed, Leicester City has delighted neutral football fans in the UK where they have become the most popular ‘2nd team’, as well as those across the world.

In recent weeks football pundits from as far afield as Brazil and Japan have made the journey to the King Power Stadium to report on this rarest of feats – an underdog team taking on the world of corporate football, where big clubs traditionally hold a monopoly at the top of the table, and winning. For many the achievement of Ranieri’s team come as a breath of fresh air in a game increasingly governed by big money and overpaid footballing talent who all too frequently display little loyalty to their fans.

Leicester City’s end-of-season run in includes games against West Ham, Swansea, Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea. If Ranieri’s team can continue their excellent form which has seen them win all of their past five games, without conceding a single goal, they will become the first team since 1978 to be first-time league champions in England.

Between now and mid-May Leicester City’s exploits will continue to capture the attention of football fans in England, Thailand and across they world, as they carefully watch the closing scenes of this most promising of fairy tales.

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