LONDON (REUTERS) – Leicester City’s Premier League title dream became reality on Monday as their only remaining challengers Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 at Chelsea handing the underdogs the trophy in one of the greatest sporting achievements of modern times.
The result provoked an outpouring of celebration in the provincial English city and as far away as Thailand and Japan, with Leicester’s players having watched nervously on television along with Foxes fans packed into local bars 160km away.
Goals from Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Son Heung-min had looked like extending the title race to the penultimate week of what has been an unforgettable season.
However, Gary Cahill gave Chelsea a lifeline just before the hour and substitute Eden Hazard’s superb 83rd minute equaliser ended Spurs’ slim title hopes to the delight of Leicester and their former Chelsea manager, Italian Claudio Ranieri.
As tempers flared at Stamford Bridge at fulltime, television pictures cut away to Leicester’s players celebrating in the living room of leading scorer Jamie Vardy.
Elsewhere in Leicester the city’s biggest ever party began in earnest, while in Thailand, home of the club’s owners King Power, Leicester’s army of fans was swelling.
With two games left, Leicester are seven points ahead of second-placed Tottenham and Saturday’s home match against Everton will include a glorious lap of honour. “First of all, congratulations to Leicester City and to Claudio Ranieri. A fantastic season,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “I’m very disappointed but now we have to fight for second place.” “A massive, amazing season for Leicester, Claudio the players and the fans. They deserve it.”
Unfashionable Leicester, 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the season, are English champions for the first time and become the first team to win a maiden English title since Nottingham Forest in 1977-78, having left the likes of Manchester City and United, Chelsea and Arsenal in their wake.
Oddly the biggest match in Leicester’s history was one they were not involved in as the final act of an absorbing title race was played out in west London between last year’s champions and a Tottenham side who have refused to give up the chase.
But Ranieri’s intrepid team had already done the damage, churning out results to stay top of the table since Jan. 23 while their rivals fell by the wayside.
Incredibly, Leicester spent half of last season bottom of the league before a late surge saw them escape relegation. They began the season among the favourites to go down, but by Christmas they were already unlikely challengers for the title as Chelsea and Manchester City spluttered. Tottenham stayed in the hunt for a first title since 1961 but Leicester’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Sunday saw Leicester puth one hand on the trophy.
Hazard’s late goal against bitter London rivals Spurs at Stamford Bridge sealed the destiny of the title.
Former England striker Alan Shearer, who won the title in 1995 with Blackburn Rovers, said: “For a team like Leicester to come and take the giants on with their wealth and experience – I think it’s the biggest thing to happen in football.”