Ranieri gears up for an­other Le­ices­ter ‘fairy­tale’

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

LE­ICES­TER CITY man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri looked for­ward to “an­other fairy­tale” af­ter the 5,000-1 Premier League cham­pi­ons booked their place in the knock­out phase of the Cham­pi­ons League.

Le­ices­ter are toil­ing in the Premier League, sit­ting two points above the rel­e­ga­tion zone, but yes­ter­day’s 2-1 win over Club Brugge took them into the Cham­pi­ons League last 16 with a game to spare.

Asked which of Europe’s glam­our clubs he would like to face in the next round, a smil­ing Ranieri replied: “I don’t know. It’s not im­por­tant, be­lieve me.

“I hope to be there in good con­di­tion. That’s im­por­tant. The name is not im­por­tant. It will be an­other fairy­tale. Win, lose, it’s not im­por­tant. It’s im­por­tant to go there.”

Le­ices­ter’s win had the added bonus of guar­an­tee­ing them top spot in Group G, mean­ing they will be paired with one of the sec­ond-place teams in next month’s draw.

A team like Real Madrid or Bay­ern Mu­nich could pro­vide the op­po­si­tion in Le­ices­ter’s next home game in the com­pe­ti­tion and cap­tain Wes Mor­gan is rel­ish­ing the prospect.

“It is a fan­tas­tic feel­ing to reach the last 16. It is more than we could ever imag­ine,” the Ja­maica cen­tre­back told BT Sport.

“For Le­ices­ter to be new­com­ers and finish group win­ners, it is an amaz­ing achieve­ment. A great re­sult and a great per­for­mance.”

At the fi­nal whis­tle, Le­ices­ter’s ju­bi­lant sup­port­ers launched into a ren­di­tion of the chant: “We’re all go­ing on a European tour!”

But while the fans’ thoughts are al­ready turn­ing to spring­time so­journs on the con­ti­nent, Ranieri wants his play­ers to plough all their en­er­gies into ar­rest­ing their do­mes­tic slump.

“Our minds must go on the Premier League be­cause I want to push my play­ers to think about the Premier League,” said the Ital­ian.

“Now our job is done. We’re through the group. I don’t know which team we play. It will be a fan­tas­tic team. We’re very happy.

“But now we have to go back. We’re very close to rel­e­ga­tion and we must play at the same level as the Cham­pi­ons League.

“When we want to do some­thing, we achieve some­thing. We must con­cen­trate on the Premier League now.”

Shinji Okazaki’s hooked finish in the fifth minute and Riyad Mahrez’s 30th-minute penalty, won by Marc Al­brighton, looked to have set Le­ices­ter up for a rou­tine vic­tory at the King Power Sta­dium.

But Jose Izquierdo re­duced the ar­rears with a break­away goal early in the sec­ond half and there were some anx­ious mo­ments for the hosts be­fore their pas­sage was con­firmed.

“We con­cede a goal on the counter-at­tack. Why?” Ranieri asked in his post-match press con­fer­ence.

“An Ital­ian man­ager con­cedes a goal on a counter-at­tack, I get crazy.”

Le­ices­ter have al­ready lost six games in the Premier League – twice as many times as last sea­son – and Ranieri con­ceded Brugge’s goal had stirred un­wel­come re­cent mem­o­ries.

“Of course (they are) lack­ing con­fi­dence be­cause in the Premier League when some­thing hap­pens, (the op­po­si­tion) score a goal,” he said.

“And tonight, the first chance (Brugge’s goal), was the first shot on goal. It’s un­be­liev­able. We have to change this mood.”

Hav­ing lost all five of their Group G games to date, Bel­gian cham­pi­ons Brugge can no longer claim even the con­so­la­tion prize of a berth in the Europa League.

When it was put to beaten coach Michel Preud’homme that his side had pro­duced a muchim­proved show­ing in the sec­ond half, he replied: “Yeah, but there was the first half. That’s the prob­lem.

“In foot­ball at this level, you have to play 90 min­utes. The first half was a dis­as­ter and the sec­ond half was our best level.”

He also gave short shrift to a sug­ges­tion his team had shown Le­ices­ter too much re­spect.

“Yes, of course,” the for­mer Bel­gium goal­keeper said in a voice thick with sar­casm.

“It’s my big prob­lem in the Cham­pi­ons League. I’m afraid and I play de­fen­sively.” – AFP

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