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Hot Leicester reach knock-out rounds as group winners

Leicester 2 Club Brugge 1

By Jon Culley

Their title defence may be misfiring but the fairytale Premier League champions continue to justify their status in the Champions League. After five of their six group matches, they are through to the knock-out rounds as group winners.

However, reaching the last 16 was not quite as comfortable as they might have hoped after sweeping to a two-goal lead inside half an hour after a bright and confident start against the team they had beaten 3-0 in Belgium in September.

Brugge rallied after half-time and Jose Izquierdo's goal gave Michel Preud'homme's team a chance to wrest back the advantage that Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez had given Claudio Ranieri's side.

But the Foxes worked hard and with discipline to protect what they had and with Porto held in Copenhagen, their 13 points is enough to ensure they top Group G regardless of what happens when they travel to Portugal on December 7.

The evening could hardly have started any better for Leicester, for whom the inclusion of Andy King for Daniel Amartey was the only change from the side beaten at Watford in the Premier League last Saturday.

They were in front inside five minutes after their first meaningful attack, a classic Leicester goal from a move that began deep in their own half.

Marc Albrighton, who had scored an identically timed goal to launch Leicester's campaign in Belgium in September, swept a pass upfield in search of Jamie Vardy, who had left-back Christian Fuchs running with him to pick up a sublime flick from his team-mate.

Fuchs drove forward along the left before releasing a cross that perfectly bypassed three defenders before Okazaki met it at the near post and hooked the ball past goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle.

The stadium was suddenly an explosion of noise, which can have done little for the confidence of the Brugge players, who were still looking for their first point in the Champions League despite performing well domestically.

While Leicester have worries on that score, Brugge arrived in fourth place in the Belgian First Division after winning six of their last nine matches.

Their chances of gaining anything receded further when the Foxes' lead doubled in the 30th minute.

The visitors had enjoyed good possession, enough to suggest they might find a way to level, but then a trip by Dion Cools on Albrighton just inside the box gave away a penalty, which Mahrez converted for his fourth goal in the group stages.

It was already shaping up to be Leicester's best win at home in the competition, having beaten their other two group rivals with a single goal.

With Kasper Schmeichel sidelined by the broken hand he sustained in Copenhagen two weeks ago, responsibility for carrying forward Leicester's unblemished record of clean sheets rested with Ron-Robert Zieler, who was making his Champions League debut.

The German was not seriously tested until three minutes before half-time, when Izquierdo found the space for a diagonal shot towards the right-hand corner. Zieler responded effectively enough, diving to his left to punch the ball away.

He and his team-mates must have felt comfortable with their night's work as half-time arrived but that changed when the seventh minute of the second half brought the end of Leicester's perfect campaign as Izquierdo suddenly fired Brugge back into the game with a stunning goal.

Breaking from the halfway line, the Colombian forward played a neat one-two with his strike partner, former Middlesbrough and Burnley front man Jelle Vossen, before outpacing Fuchs with a scorching run down the right that he ended with a clean strike into the top right-hand corner to which Zieler had no answer.

Leicester now needed a third goal to ease any building apprehension.

They thought they had it just inside the hour when Vardy backheeled a low cross from Fuchs past Butelle. The flag was up for offside, and correctly, however, but in the end two goals were enough.

Leicester: Zieler, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez (Schlupp 68), Drinkwater, King, Albrighton (Amartey 78), Vardy, Okazaki (Gray 68).

Goals: Okazaki 5, Mahrez (p) 30 Subs not used: Hernández, Musa, Hamer, Ulloa.

Club Brugge: Butelle, Mechele, Poulain, Simons, Cools, Pina (Limbombe 61), Claudemir (Da Silva 84), De Bock (Van Rhijn 71), Vossen, Izquierdo, Vanaken.

Goal: Izquierdo 52 Subs not used: Bruzzese, Conceição, Denswil, Mbombo.

Referee: Ruddy Buquet (France)

Man of the match: Riyad Mahrez

Match rating: 7/10

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