Shakespeare targets return to the Champions League

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy (right) reacts after challenging Atletico defender Diego Godin for the ball in their Champions League quarter-final second leg. Vardy equalised from close range in the second half.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy (right) reacts after challenging Atletico defender Diego Godin for the ball in their Champions League quarter-final second leg. Vardy equalised from close range in the second half.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Craig Shakespeare urged his Leicester City players to use the club's first experience of Champions League football as motivation to take part in the competition again, after their European journey came to an end at the hands of Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Trailing 1-0 after the quarter-final first leg in Madrid, Leicester were held to a 1-1 draw at their King Power Stadium, leaving manager Shakespeare to reflect on a spirited performance with a mixture of disappointment and pride.

Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester in the second half after Saul Niguez had put Atletico ahead with a superb header. And there were moments when the Premier League club threatened to score again and make life uncomfortable for the Spanish club as they chased the 3-1 victory on the night that would have put them through.

Asked about his emotions at the end, Shakespeare, Leicester's manager, said: "Disappointment obviously to go out but immensely proud of the performance. I thought we gave it a really good shot against an excellent team."

The majority of the Foxes were appearing in the Champions League for the first time this season and Shakespeare hopes reaching the quarter-finals will serve as an inspiration for them.

With Leicester 12th in the Premier League, it may be some time before they rub shoulders with Europe's elite again, but Shakespeare said that would now be the objective.

"I hope the benefit is they want some more of it," he said. "They're very disappointed, but I said they can be proud of what they achieved. They should want more of this, all players want to play at the highest level, which the Champions League is."

Atletico went 2-0 up on aggregate when Niguez headed in Filipe Luis' cross midway through the first half, but a half-time switch by Shakespeare threatened to provide a route back into the tie for Leicester.

With Marc Albrighton and half-time substitute Ben Chilwell deployed as wing-backs, Leicester pinned Atletico back and drew level on the night when Vardy slammed in from close range.

Atletico had to weather heavy pressure to see the game out and victorious coach Diego Simeone, who has now led Atletico to three Champions League semi-finals in four years, was generous in his praise of Leicester.

Shakespeare's tactical change was "fantastic", he said, and it had been "almost a pleasure to compete" against Leicester.

"They never gave up. They never let their heads drop," he said. "We were living in fear all night. They pushed us all the way."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Shakespeare targets return to the Champions League'. Print Edition | Subscribe