Kelechi Iheanacho’s second-half goal was the difference as Leicester City booked an FA Cup final date against Chelsea in the semi-final clash against Southampton and the goal apart from being the match-winner; stole the headlines for many positive reasons.
The FA Cup game between Leicester and Southampton, coming a day after the first semi-final match where Chelsea proved bookmakers wrong by sending Manchester City packing with a 1-0 win, had attracted a crowd of 4,000 football crazy fans at the traditional home of football, the Wembley Stadium, with everything at stake for both clubs.
Twenty-four hours earlier, permutations had indicated a likely repeat of the 1969 FA cup final with pundits sweating on a Man City vs Leicester final, which attracted 100,000 fans to Wembley with a record £128,000 in gate receipts realized, 52 years ago.
Frank O’Farrell’s Leicester lost 1-0 on the night and a repeat final showdown was eagerly anticipated but Chelsea FC with Thomas Tuchel at the helms this time had other ideas. Hakim Ziyech’s second-half goal was all he wrote as the North Londoners head to the final to await either Leicester or Southampton at Wembley.
Playing in their first FA Cup semi-final since 1982, Leicester had the better chances throughout, although Iheanacho’s effort was the only shot on target in the entire contest.
Iheanacho had scored more FA Cup goals (13) heading into Sunday’s contest- more than any other player since the start of 2015-16 season, and it was his second-half strike that proved decisive.
The gap of 52 years is the longest between finals since Portsmouth went 69 and Cardiff City 81 before facing one another in 2008, while Southampton has now been eliminated in eight of their past 10 FA Cup semi-final appearances, two of which have come in the past four seasons.
It has been some 2021 so far for Iheanacho, who took his tally for the campaign to 15 goals in all competitions. He is the first Nigerian player to reach that mark in a single season for a Premier League club since Odion Ighalo scored 17 for Watford in 2015-16.
Iheanacho’s strike also means that all of the previous four FA Cup goals scored at Wembley have been netted by African players: also Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (twice), in last season’s final, and Hakim Ziyech, who got Chelsea’s winner against Manchester City on Saturday.
Chelsea eliminated Leicester City in the 2020 edition of the FA Cup courtesy of a Ross Barkley goal in the last 8 but suffered a final defeat in the hands of Arsenal. It looks unlikely that Chelsea will be back-to-back losers of the FA cup final but considering the form of Kelechi Iheanacho and his deadly partnership with Jamie Vardy, anything is possible.
A name has however been missing in all of the analyses so far. That player is Wilfred Ndidi, the most underrated European best defensive midfielder of the moment. Keep a date with the FA cup final billed for Wembley on the 15th day of May. A surprise awaits you.
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