London (AFP) – Leicester won the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s 137-year history on Saturday as Youri Tielemans’s sensational strike beat Chelsea 1-0 in front of 22,000 fans at Wembley.
The largest crowd for a sports event in England since the coronavirus pandemic hit 14 months ago were treated to a goal worthy to win any trophy as the Belgian midfielder blasted into the top corner on 63 minutes.
Kasper Schmeichel produced a stunning save to deny Mason Mount late on and Chelsea also had a goal ruled out by a VAR review for offside.
Five years after the Foxes stunned the Premier League’s giants to become champions, Leicester have now claimed English football’s other prestigious trophy at the fifth time of asking.
Four times they had previously lost the final, but the last of those was 52 years ago.
A historic week for Brendan Rodgers’s men could get even better as they are on the verge of sealing a place in next season’s Champions League.
The sides meet again in three days’ time at Stamford Bridge in a pivotal clash to decide who secures a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Chelsea need a quick response after losing for just the fourth time in 27 games since Thomas Tuchel replaced the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
The Blues also have a Champions League final to look forward to against Manchester City in two weeks’ time, but could end the campaign without silverware or a place in Europe’s premier club competition next season.
Chelsea’s success under Tuchel has come thanks to an excellent defensive record, but their struggles at the other end were again exposed.
Tuchel’s men dominated before half-time but laboured to create clear-cut chances despite Leicester losing defensive lynchpin Jonny Evans to injury midway through the first half.
– Wayward Werner –
Timo Werner’s wayward finishing has characterised his first season in England since joining from RB Leipzig for £47 million ($66 million) and the German international had another day to forget in front of goal.
Tuchel turned away in disgust after Werner blazed high and wide from the edge of the box with the Leicester defence stretched midway through the first half.
Werner then came closest to breaking the deadlock before half-time as his header drifted just wide and evaded Cesar Azpilicueta as the Chelsea captain launched himself in at the far post.
The welcome return of noise echoing down from 6,000 fans of each side from both ends of the ground helped mask a general lack of quality on the field.
Another 10,000 local supporters, key workers and Football Association stakeholders were also in attendance as Wembley gears up for hosting matches at Euro 2020 next month at 25 percent capacity.
One moment of magic proved decisive as Tielemans collected possession midway inside the Chelsea half and strode forward before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top corner past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Tuchel flexed the strength in depth of his squad in an attempt to find an equaliser as Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz, Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic were all introduced off the bench.
But they were denied by the brilliance of Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.
Chilwell, whose every touch was booed by the Leicester support, nearly came back to haunt his old club as his header was turned onto the post by the Dane.
Mount then could not believe his luck as his sweetly struck shot was turned behind by a brilliant stop from Schmeichel.
Even when the Leicester ‘keeper was beaten, Chelsea were denied by a VAR review.
A Wes Morgan own goal looked set to send the game to extra-time, but Chilwell had strayed offside in the build-up.
Leicester players and fans celebrated the decision like a goal and were in raptures again moments later after seeing out a nervy finale.
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