Leicester City enjoyed the easiest possible introduction to Champions League football as two Riyad Mahrez goals helped them brush off the limited Group G challenge of Club Bruges 3-0 at the Jan Breydel Stadium on Wednesday.
The win was Leicester’s first in any European competition for 55 years and last season’s surprise Premier League champions could not have wished for a better start, taking the lead when Marc Albrighton seized on a misplaced header from a long throw to score in the fifth minute.
The goal secured his position in the club’s history as their first-ever scorer in the competition, and their first in Europe since 2000.
“It was some feeling, something I never thought I’d achieve,” said Albrighton, who has won a Premier League medal, played against Barcelona and now scored in the Champions League since being released by Aston Villa two years ago. “There is no reason why we can’t win this competition,” he added. “People said we couldn’t win the Premier League but just to be this far is fantastic.”
The game was effectively settled as a contest after 29 minutes when Mahrez curled a superb free kick into the net after veteran defender Timmy Simons had hauled down Jamie Vardy on the edge of the area.
With such a comfortable lead, Leicester began to savour the novel experience of playing top-level European football and could have added a third before the interval when Danny Drinkwater rocked back on his heels and produced a stinging volley from outside the area.
The only sour note for Leicester was a booking for 29-million pound record signing Islam Slimani for a push on Bjorn Engels, which led to the defender falling awkwardly and injuring his shoulder.
Mahrez completed the rout from the penalty spot after 61 minutes after Vardy gave the defence the slip and was upended by keeper Ludovic Butelle.
Leicester enjoyed such dominance that manager Claudio Ranieri substituted both strikers with 20 minutes remaining. The Italian said he was delighted with the performance. “The match could have changed face if they scored at the beginning, but they lost the chance and our first chance we scored a goal. It was good for us to start our story with a victory,” said Ranieri, whose team bounced back from a 4-1 thumping at Liverpool at the weekend. “It was important to show a reaction after the Liverpool defeat. That was very, very important.”
“I said from the beginning that the Champions League is an experience for us. We hope to go through the group and play again, but for us also it is important if we don’t achieve the first two positions, to go into the Europa League. That’s our target, our desire, to continue in Europe. Of course the Champions League is much better, but now we play just the first match. There are another five, so stay calm, humble,” added Ranieri, whose team is already in control of Group G after rivals Porto and FC Copenhagen drew 1-1 in Portugal.
Porto, twice former European champions, visit the King Power Stadium next at the end of the month before the Danish champions come to England in October.
“It is a big test against everybody because with Rostov we are the only two teams who had never played in the Champions League and for us it is difficult to play against teams who have very good experience, like Brugge, Copenhagen and Porto,” added Ranieri. “But we have started well. That gives us confidence and now we have to stay calm and put our minds on the next match on Saturday.”