Europe a welcome respite

Sevilla's Daniel Carrico battling for the ball with Leicester's Jamie Vardy. Sevilla won 2-1, thanks to goals from Joaquin Correa and Pablo Sarabia but Vardy's away goal means the second leg on March 14 will be anyone's game.
Sevilla's Daniel Carrico battling for the ball with Leicester's Jamie Vardy. Sevilla won 2-1, thanks to goals from Joaquin Correa and Pablo Sarabia but Vardy's away goal means the second leg on March 14 will be anyone's game.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Foxes grab an away goal 'edge' as they lose 1-2 to Sevilla in their Champions League first leg

SEVILLE • Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri believes his side can continue their "holiday" from the reality of a Premier League relegation battle in the Champions League, after Jamie Vardy's away goal gave them a lifeline against Sevilla on Wednesday.

Despite being thoroughly outplayed, Leicester emerged with only a 2-1 last-16, first leg defeat, leaving the tie finely balanced ahead of the return leg on March 14.

"The Champions League is like a holiday and the most important thing is the Premier League," said Ranieri, whose side are perilously placed just one point above the drop zone in England. "If we can do something important in the Champions League, then great.

"Football is great for this because the best and biggest team doesn't always win."

On top of Vardy's first goal in the Champions League and only his sixth of the season, Leicester were indebted to a stunning display from Kasper Schmeichel as he made a string of saves, including from Joaquin Correa's first-half penalty.

However, the goalkeeper was powerless to stop Pablo Sarabia (25th minute) and Correa (62nd minute) giving Sevilla a 2-0 lead before Vardy's reply 17 minutes from time.

ALL TO PLAY FOR

We went back and scored a goal that was important for three things: It gave strength to us, Vardy goes back to scoring, and it reopens the match in the second leg."

CLAUDIO RANIERI, Leicester manager, on Vardy's precious away goal against Sevilla.

"The first half was very tough, we were a little scared, nobody wanted to show for the ball and Kasper kept the team alive, saving the penalty and some shots," said Ranieri.

"The second half was much better and we believed we could do something good.

"When we played our football in our good moment they scored the second goal, but we didn't give up and then we went back and scored a goal that was important for three things: it gave strength to us, Vardy goes back to scoring, and it re-opens the match in the second leg."

Sevilla dominated possession to such an extent that Samir Nasri and Steven N'Zonzi completed more passes than the entire Leicester team.

Yet, the English champions now have a genuine chance of reaching the last eight, with a 1-0 home win in the second leg, at the King Power Stadium next month, enough to see them through.

However, the Italian laughed off suggestions that Leicester could now be favourites to eliminate a Sevilla side who are flying high in La Liga and have won the Europa League in each of the past three seasons.

"We know they are better than us, a very high-quality team, a lot of experience," Ranieri said. "But we have a very big heart, very big effort, we helped each other and I think we deserved this goal.

"I think we are still the underdogs because they have high quality but we will try to do our best - if we lose it's because Sevilla made a fantastic performance."

By contrast, Sevilla were left to rue a slew of missed chances.

"We were the better side, we had a lot of chances and we should have scored more because as it is the tie is still open," said forward Stefan Jovetic.

Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli claimed he never expected the gulf between the sides to be so great despite Leicester's struggles of late.

"It is difficult to imagine such a big difference in a Champions League game," said the Argentinian. We were dominant and we found Schmeichel in great form. If it wasn't for him, it would have been a very different story."

Yet, despite their fine form, it was a similar story for Sevilla this season as their profligacy in front of goal could come back to haunt them in three weeks' time.

"We didn't have the luck or the ruthlessness to show the difference between the sides," said Sampaoli. "We go away with a strange sensation due to their goal, but we are looking forward to the second leg and motivated to stay in Europe."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Europe a welcome respite'. Print Edition | Subscribe