Ranieri targets more Leicester magic in Champions League
After their fairytale Premier League title triumph last season, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City make their long awaited first step into the Champions League at Club Brugge in Belgium on Wednesday.
The Foxes were handed what looks like a kind draw in Group G with Porto and FC Copenhagen making up the section.
However, the short trip to the Jan Breydelstadion is still a step into the unknown for a club not accustomed to continental competition.
Leicester have not played a European tie since losing to Red Star Belgrade in the first round of the UEFA Cup in September 2000.
They have not won in Europe since beating Glenavon of Northern Ireland in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, but Ranieri is targeting a long run in the Champions League.
“It’s important to play in Europe beyond December. that’s our goal. We want to be in the knockout stage,” said the Italian, who knows Leicester need not look too far for inspiration.
“Winning the Champions League is impossible. But Leicester have shown before that the impossible is possible,” he added.
Ranieri himself is no stranger to the music of the Champions League, and the former Chelsea and Inter Milan boss is preparing for a sixth campaign in the competition with a sixth different club.
But there are plenty of members of his squad who will be taking in every moment of Wednesday’s game, aware of how far they and Leicester have travelled in a short space of time, from the second tier to the European elite.
“We have come a long way and sometimes you do have to take a step back and reflect that we did come from the Championship,” goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel told the Leicester Mercuy.
“To be stood here as Premier League champions, in the Champions League, you have to reflect as well and think we have done all right.”
Leicester will be eager to seize their European opportunity, all the more so after a poor start to the Premier League season which includes a 4-1 thumping away at Liverpool at the weekend.
Their opponents have also endured a poor start to their domestic season, with Michel Preud’homme’s Club Brugge coming into this game on the back of a 1-0 loss at Waasland-Beveren, their third defeat in six games.
“Brugge are a good team, the best in Belgium. They are used to playing in Europe. They have experience and that means something,” warned Ranieri, whose side will be backed by 1,400 supporters inside the stadium.
The Belgian champions are appearing in the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since 2005, but they have a proud history in Europe.
Beaten by Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final of 1976, they lost to the same side in the European Cup final at Wembley two years later.
That was a long time ago now and their recent record against English clubs is poor, including a loss to Manchester United in the Champions League play-offs last season.
However, Preud’homme says Leicester’s remarkable progress can also help bring the best out of his team.
“What Leicester did last season is a great story, and they proved one thing –- with the right mindset, you can go a long way,” said the former Belgium goalkeeper.
“We want to get back in the form we were in when we won the title last season.”
Lior Refaelov is the only key player missing for the hosts, while Leicester were boosted by the appearance of Danny Simpson on Tuesday’s flight.
The right-back came off against Liverpool on Saturday with a hamstring complaint but could feature in Ranieri’s line-up.
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