LONDON (AP) — Even sweeter than the powerful long-range strike from Youri Tielemans was Leicester being able to celebrate winning the FA Cup for the first time surrounded by its fans.
“Wow, what a finish,” Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said after they beat Chelsea 1-0 in the final on Saturday. “I didn’t dare to celebrate because there’s always VAR.”
Always, but not to prevent Tielemans’ sublime 30-yard shot from counting in the 63rd minute.
Instead, the video assistant review came to Leicester’s rescue in the 89th minute to prevent Wes Morgan from a moment of heartache.
The 37-year-old club captain had been on the pitch for only seven minutes when he accidentally deflected in former teammate Ben Chilwell’s cross. But one of those marginal offsides that so irritate players and fans was detected and the roars of Leicester fans were even louder than the moment Tielemans scored. Wembley Stadium hosted the biggest crowd — more than 20,000 — since the pandemic started 14 months ago.
After losing four finals — the first in 1949 — Leicester finally won world football’s oldest cup competition in the 140th final by beating a team contesting the Champions League final in two weeks. The team from central England is a champion again, five years after Morgan collected the Premier League trophy.
Players — such as Chelsea duo Chilwell andn N’Golo Kante — have left since that improbable 5,000-1 title triumph but Morgan and matchday captain Schmeichel are still there to celebrate again, this time in a moment tinged with sadness.
Inside the jerseys at Wembley were photos of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s Thai owner until he died in 2018 when his helicopter crashed in flames next to King Power Stadium.
“He is always with us, Kun Vichai,” said Schmeichel before handing the FA Cup on the field to his son, Aiyawatt.
Saves from Schmeichel as much as VAR helped to preserve the lead; he used one hand to push Chilwell’s shot onto the post in the 78th and blocked Mason Mount’s volley in the 87th.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I was a child,” Schmeichel said. “The performance today — the grit and determination — I’m so proud of everyone.”
It’s far from season over for Leicester. There’s another match against Chelsea to come on Tuesday which could clinch Champions League qualification for the second time ever. Sitting third, Leicester holds a two-point lead over Chelsea.
“Today we enjoy, and tomorrow we dust ourselves down and can’t really think about this anymore,” Schmeichel said. “Chelsea are a top-class side and are going to want revenge.”
The west London club has lost consecutive FA Cup finals, with Thomas Tuchel failing just as Frank Lampard did. But Tuchel can still win the biggest prize in club football against Manchester City in the Champions League final on May 29 in Porto.
Chelsea was a key early stop in Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers’ coaching career, with the youth team around 15 years ago. While Rodgers has won trophies in Scotland with Celtic, he fell short in English football with Watford, Swansea and Liverpool until Saturday. The FA Cup was a first for him and Leicester.