After experiencing the thrill of the Champions League, Leicester’s players want more.
It took a club with the recent European pedigree of Atletico Madrid, finalists in two of the last three years, to end Leicester’s dream on Tuesday night as the Spanish side advanced to another semi-final with a 2-1 aggregate win.
The Foxes’ indifferent defence of their Premier League title means a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League is beyond them.
But having dined at the top table of European club football, Danny Drinkwater insists he and his team-mates are hungry to return one day.
“Playing in stadiums like over there in Madrid — that’s Champions League football. You hear the music and you get a tingle down your spine and a buzz,’’ he said.
“Now we’ve had a taste of it, we want more.’’
#Fearless has become a hashtag adopted by the club following a remarkable journey from relegation certainties to 5,000-1 Premier League title winners in the space of little more than 12 months.
On more than one occasion, both domestically and in Europe, Leicester have shown anything is possible and Drinkwater said the squad felt capable of going all the way in the Champions League.
“We did believe we could win it,’’ he said. “We weren’t in it just to take part. We’re a squad that believes we can do things some people probably didn’t think we’re capable of, but we just keep pushing ourselves on the training field and out on the pitch.
“There was nothing for us to be scared of. Atletico Madrid are a big force in Europe and we pushed them all the way.’’
Indeed they did. Saul Niguez’s superb header to make it 1-0 on the night and double Atletico’s overall lead from the first leg might have seen most teams wilt. But Leicester responded and Jamie Vardy’s second-half goal gave them a glimmer of hope.
Atletico then faced a bombardment which would have seen lesser sides concede again and crumble, with only the European know-how which comes with experience seeing Diego Simeone’s side survive.
‘’We felt we could get back into it and we created chances but they were blocked,’’ said Drinkwater’s central midfield partner Wilfred Ndidi, who feels the Foxes can get back into Europe.
‘’We tried our best but it was unfortunate and the aim in future is to get more European football.
‘’We are not in Europe next season but I believe we can fight everything next season to get there again.’’
Foxes boss Craig Shakespeare echoed those sentients.
“I hope the benefit is the players want some more of it. They are very disappointed but can be proud of what they’ve achieved,” he said.
“As a football club we can be proud of how we’ve conducted ourselves. All players want to play at the highest level and the Champions League is the highest level but we have to get back to winning ways in the Premier League now.
“The feeling is one of disappointment to go out but I’m immensely proud of the performance.”
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