Napoli 3 Leicester 2: Foxes crash out into Europa Conference League as wasteful finishes proves costly in thriller
A DEADLY double from North Macedonian marksman Eljif Elmas crushed Brendan Rodgers hopes of making it to the last 16 in Europe – for the SIXTH time in his career.
Despite pulling back a two-goal deficit thanks to first half goals from Jonny Evans and Kiernan Deswsbury-Hall, more sloppiness at the back undid all Leicester's hard work as Elmas put them to the sword in the second half.
But Rodgers must feel cursed because a missed penalty by Legia Warsaw's former Spurs striker Thomas Peckhart EIGHT MINUTES into stoppage time against Spartak Moscow denied the Foxes runners-up spot and a crack at a Champions' League drop-out.
Instead they finished third to topple into the Conference League as Group C literally went to the last kick!
Leicester hoped they had saved their best till last as they faced joint-group favourites Napoli in their cavernous Stadio Diego Armando Maradona with their Group C fate balanced on a knife-edge.
Only a win guarenteed the Foxes a place in the last 16, while Napoli also needed a win to progress which really spiced things up as this pair went toe-to-toe.
Despite being rocked by the loss of seven players to covid and illness Rodgers was still able to call on Jamie Vardy, Youri Tielemans and Champions' League winner Ryan Bertrand.
At least the FA Cup winners were spared the usual fire, brimstone and flares from the home ultras as torrential rain and storms had battered Naples for days and dampened home fervour.
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The visitors emerged to a near-deserted stadium in typically soggy British conditions but sadly, many of the Foxes 600 travelling fans missed kick-off due to some dodgy Italian planning.
Local police had ordered the fleet of supporters buses to take a specified route, which turned out to be a complete dead end and delayed them in gridlocked traffic.
Eventually they filtered in to find their team trailing after Leicester got off to a disastrous start, despite almost scoring in their first attack.
Harvey Barnes' cheeky backheel flick sent Dewsbury-Hall into acres of space and the midfielder's low cross found Timothy Castagne at the back post.
However the Belgian's shot lacked the power needed to beat Napoli keeper Alex Meret who denied the Foxes a dream start.
That swiftly turned into a nightmare as Leicester's now familiar failings in defence again haunted them after four minutes.
Tielemans took a poor first touch from a Soyuncu pass and allowed Napoli skipper Piotr Zielinski to pick his pocket.
The Pole surged forward and this shot deflected flukily into the path of Adam Ounas who drilled a low shot through Soyuncu's legs and beyond Kasper Schmeichel.
Napoli smelled blood and giant striker Andrea Petagna was a towering menace.
Leicester were hanging on as Petagna and Ounas both had shots blocked until Tielemans raised hopes with a long-range shot which whistled just over.
However Napoli doubled their lead in their next attack after 25 minutes, slicing through the Foxes flimsy defence again.
Soyuncu's attempts to play offside blew up in his face as Bertrand played Zielinski on and the Pole set up Petagna, who squared to leave Eljif Elmas with a simple finish into an empty net.
If Leicester were to survive they would have to do what Napoli had done to them on Matchday 1 by clawing back a two-goal deficit.
Amazingly, they managed it by half-time!
Two minutes later Jonny Evans handed them a lifeline when he pulled one back.
Maddison's free kick just evaded Vardy but the ball dropped to Evans who slammed a low shot beyond Meret from eight yards to spark his side into life.
Things got even better for Leicester six minutes later when they pulled level to really rattle the Italians.
The ball dropped out of the air and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall managed to avoid Wilfred Ndidi to smash a sensational left foot volley which raged past the helpless Meret from outside the box.
At half-time you would have bet on Leicester – but once again they imploded.
The Foxes failed to deal with Ounas's cutback eight minutes after the break and dangerman Elmas had bags of time to set himself up and smash the ball home from seven yards.
It was the North Macedonian marksman's fifth goal in five Euro ties and it left Leicester staring at the Conference League.
James Maddison could and should have levelled after Giovanni Di Lorenzo gifted him the ball three minutes later.
But the midfielder's shot struck the outside of the post to his dismay.
The Foxes fought to the bitter end and Schmeichel denied Kevin Malcuit with a brilliant one-handed save.
But Rodgers men trudged off at full-time soaked … and sunk!
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