Leicester reached their first FA Cup final since 1969 after Kelechi Iheanacho beat Brendan Rodgers’ side ahead of Southampton on an evening when thousands of spectators returned to Wembley.
After Chelsea defeated Manchester City in front of empty stalls on Saturday, the following evening saw 4,000 local residents, including key workers, building up England’s largest crowd for 13 months.
A number of Leicester and Southampton supporters were among those who made it to Sunday’s semi-final, with Iheanacho in good shape to settle the draw coming home at the start of the second half. seal a 1-0 victory under the arch.
There are expected to be 21,000 participants – including many more supporters – when the Foxes return to Wembley on May 15 to face Chelsea looking to win their very first FA Cup.
Hopefully the centerpiece will be more exciting than the lackluster semi-final.
At least Sunday’s tie was a memorable one for the spectators to return, with Leicester scoring a cautious first half and then landing a punch in the 55th minute as the Saints appeared to be awakening.
Jamie Vardy, who spoiled the best chance of the opening period, broke free on the left and passed fit Iheanacho, whose mediocre first effort kindly sent him back to him and he fled home.
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The Saints launched a soft response for a leveler as they quickly ran out of ideas and energy, their dreams of replicating their 1976 triumph ending as Leicester’s attempt to write history continued.
There were cheers and applause at the end of a match that doubled as one of the government’s pilot events, with all participants having to prove they had tested negative for the coronavirus before the match.
“Come on Leicester” and “Oh, when the Saints” echoed around Wembley in the opening minutes of a game that Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men started particularly nervously.
Ibrahima Diallo negligently lost possession four minutes into the start of the proceedings and awkwardly tried to win the ball over to Vardy, but the Foxes snapped and Ayoze Perez – back to the side after his party antics – took off. away from the frame.
Referee Chris Kavanagh returned to book the midfielder and Vardy was able to continue after the treatment as the teams played a cautious and largely lifeless start.
Southampton failed to muster a single first-half shot despite periods of ascendancy, while Leicester failed to punish their opponents’ tendency to return possession.
Diallo was again guilty of losing the ball in the 33rd minute and was fortunate not to be penalized as Youri Tielemans threw a nice ball at Vardy, who sent an effort right past the near post.
Leicester moved closer again as set pieces were unstable Saints before the break.
Wilfred Ndidi was too easily allowed to cross a corner corner at the edge of the penalty area and peek a header just above, before the Leicester midfielder made another turn at the far post .
This time Jonny Evans pushed the goal back and Vardy was just closed off with a desperate defense as the ball flew over Fraser Forster’s goal.
Caglar Soyuncu – back in Leicester’s defense after testing positive for Covid-19 – was penalized for slamming Kyle Walker-Peters minutes into the second half, with Jannik Vestergaard heading on the resulting free kick.
The Saints were starting to look more positive, only to fall behind in the 55th minute.
Vardy’s move to the flank left Jan Bednarek behind in that wake and the veteran crossed for Iheanacho to escape a bad shot, only for him to happily bounce off Vestergaard as the striker pulled the ball free. .
Hasenhuttl brought in Che Adams in a bid to change the game, with the Leicester-born striker soon seeing a blocked shot before Diallo was relieved from a distance.
Danny Ings was put through moments later but didn’t quite manage to get a shot as Diallo threw a side volley against the post behind the goal.
Leicester moved in after that spell and handled the game.
James Maddison flashed when he was well placed in the 77th minute, with the substitute – another dropped out last week – trying another ranged shot two minutes later.
The Saints created very little despite being lucky enough to reach a first FA Cup final since 1976 and it was Leicester celebrating at the final whistle.