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Jamie Vardy pounces with predatory brilliance to fire Leicester into Europa League knockout rounds

John Percy
·3-min read
Jamie Vardy scores - David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images
Jamie Vardy scores - David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Leicester’s European tour will continue into next year after yet another moment of predatory brilliance from Jamie Vardy.

Introduced as a second-half substitute, Vardy secured Leicester the crucial point required with an equaliser deep into added time to book Brendan Rodgers a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League.

The round of 32 awaits for Rodgers in February, as his team maintained their unbeaten run in the competition by equalising three times in northern Portugal.

Vardy’s second-half cameo sparked a vastly improved performance from Leicester, with the 33-year-old delivering the final contribution of an absorbing encounter at this most unique of stadiums.

Rodgers had gambled here by rotating his team but was rewarded with his second-half substitutions, as Vardy, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans provided the impetus required.

“Those players bring a different dynamic to the game, they are high quality performers and made a big difference in the second half,” said Rodgers. “We’re delighted to progress and our next incentive is now to win the group. We’ve confirmed qualification with two games to go, so we can manage the squad and give players a rest now.

“Europe is never easy and if you can’t win, it’s important not to lose and we’ve shown a wonderful spirit. We were disappointed with the performance at Liverpool on Sunday but this was a great opportunity to respond, and we’ve done that.

“We showed what we know we have. We wanted this European adventure and now we go away and recover for Fulham in the Premier League on Monday night.”

Leicester had won their previous three games in Europe, including a 4-0 thrashing of Braga three weeks ago, yet this was a far tougher assignment.

Carlos Carvalhal, the Braga manager, insisted a victory would set his team on a “spectacular journey” and they appeared on course after four minutes.

It was an excellent goal from midfielder Al Musrati, driving a 25-yard shot across Kasper Schmeichel after Leicester’s defence had failed to clear the ball.

Leicester were level five minutes later after another fine strike, with Harvey Barnes blasting the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

Harvey Barnes of Leicester City scores to make it 1-1 - Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images
Harvey Barnes of Leicester City scores to make it 1-1 - Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

Yet Braga retook the lead in the 24th minute through Paulinho, finishing from close-range after Ricardo Horta rounded Kasper Schmeichel.

Rodgers was frantically scribbling notes in his technical area, with his Leicester team threatening little and struggling for any rhythm.

Schmeichel produced a double save shortly before half-time, spilling Paulinho’s initial effort and then spreading himself to deny Horta.

Rodgers wasted no time in making changes, introducing Youri Tielemans and Wesley Fofana at half-time with Vardy and Maddison coming on shortly after.

Leicester were suddenly on the front foot, dominating possession, with Luke Thomas levelling 12 minutes from time after a moment of invention on the left from Maddison. 

It was Thomas’s first goal for the club, and Leicester must have been convinced it would be the last of the night.

Braga showed admirable resolve to score again in the final minute, with substitute Fransergio beating Schmeichel at the near post after a mistake in the build-up from Fofana.

But five minutes into stoppage time there was Vardy, lurking at the back post, to put away Marc Albrighton’s cross. After Zorya Luhank’s win over AEK Athens, a point was enough.