Leicester, Juventus advance into Champions League quarters
LEICESTER, March 15: Leicester City are heroes again after a night that surely makes their season’s toils seem worthwhile. A Champions League quarterfinal spot is theirs, and while the conventional wisdom didn’t predict that when this tie was drawn, the Foxes defied such wisdom thrillingly in front of a home crowd who must have thought they had already seen everything.
A scrappy goal from captain Wes Morgan in the first half and a sweet drive from Marc Albrighton in the second made history for Leicester, and that told only part of the story. Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s penalty kick save from Steven N’Zonzi — 10 minutes from time and moments after Sevilla’s Samir Nasri had been sent off — was the keeper’s second of this round-of-16 tie and proved to be the decisive moment as Leicester confounded expectations once more.
Sevilla could, in fact, have dulled the mood within four minutes of the start. It took a sharp save from Schmeichel, repelling Nasri’s shot at his near post, to stop the visitors from edging further ahead in the tie. Pablo Sarabia cut a 20-yard effort wide as Sevilla, despite a predictably high-tempo approach from Leicester, created the better early openings.
Yet Leicester made their first one count when Riyad Mahrez delivered a free kick to the far post from the left corner of the box, and Morgan beat the weak challenge of Gabriel Mercado, who bundled the ball home with his right thigh. Now it was game on; Sevilla had to score to keep the hosts from progressing.
Sevilla briefly threatened to do so in the aftermath of Morgan’s goal, but Leicester, aware that an hour camping in their own area was a nonstarter, wrested a degree of territorial initiative and held out until the break in relative comfort.
The visitors needed something different, and it was little surprise to see manager Jorge Sampaoli introduce Mariano Ferreira and Stevan Jovetic for the second half. In the 53rd minute, Sevilla came within inches of equalising when Sergio Escudero, taking aim 30 yards out, thudded the underside of the crossbar, and Wissam Ben Yedder volleyed the rebound wastefully over.
It was a key moment. Within two minutes, Albrighton lashed past a static Sergio Rico after a Mahrez cross was poorly cleared by Adil Rami and put Leicester ahead in the tie for the first time.
Sevilla pressed, but then Nasri — who had already been booked — pushed his head into Jamie Vardy’s head after an altercation between the pair, and was rightly dismissed. It seemed as if Sevilla folded. Schmeichel’s penalty-saving heroics, which came four minutes later after he fouled Vitolo, were the final twist.
“We are the champions,” sang the crowd as the clock wound down, and for the first time in some while, you believed them.
CONTINUED HOME DOMINANCE
When Juventus’ name comes out of the hat for the Champions League quarterfinal draw on Friday in Nyon, their opponents can be sure of one thing: They will have to survive in one of the trickiest venues in Europe.
With 31 wins in a row in Serie A and 47 games unbeaten in all competitions since August 2015, Juve’s record at the Juventus Stadium speaks for itself. When the Stadio Delle Alpi was razed to the ground in 2008, they replaced it with a smaller yet much more intimidating copy, and the results have been astonishing.
Juve vs. Porto was the 150th game at the Juventus Stadium, where the Bianconeri‘s record now reads won 119, drawn 26 and lost five. They have scored 320 goals and conceded 85. Since moving to their new home, there have been no other champions in Italy other than Juve, who have won the past five Scudettos in a row.
They have won 79.34 percent of their games, with a total of just five defeats, only one of which — against Bayern Munich in the 2012-13 quarterfinals — came in Europe. On 96.67 percent of occasions, Juve have emerged without being beaten on home soil.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they triumphed once again Tuesday. Porto did not appear in awe as they strolled out with their 2,400 fans making most of the noise, and they confidently took the game to their hosts, who appeared happy to sit back and defend, despite the array of attacking talent they had at their disposal.
The visitors nevertheless knew that not only did they need to join that small minority of under 4 percent to come away from Turin with a win, but they also had to do so by scoring two goals at least. Their good intentions did not last long, and Juve soon started to boss the game, raising their share of possession to 60 percent come half-time.
By then, they also had the lead, thanks to a gift from Porto (see below). A Paulo Dybala penalty after the guests were reduced to 10 men effectively sealed Juve’s passage to the last eight with a half still to play.
Francisco Soares screwed a good chance wide early in the second half, and Porto’s hopes, like those of most of those to have visited the Juventus Stadium before them, were over. Given the scant hospitality here, few will be relishing a trip to Turin next month.