Kelechi Iheanacho may be even more looking forward to Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Southampton than his Leicester City team-mates.
Usually the FA Cup offers some degree of distraction for wobbly teams who welcome the interruption of their league discomfort, but this is not just any game for the Foxes.
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If you ask a local fan, you’re likely to hear the same thing: fans are excited about the prospect of reaching the first final of the sport’s oldest cup competition in a few generations.
After Iheanacho had not played in the last four games since 1982, Iheanacho’s exploits in the final phase against Manchester United ensured that Brendan Rodgers enjoyed the round more after losing to Chelsea last year.
The front man from Nigeria scored twice and prevailed again in the Füchse’s deserved 3-1 win against a pathetic Red Devils team, bringing the 2016 Premier League champions into the last four.
Her last appearance in a final was in 1969, and the 52 year gap is truly breathtaking.
They are the only PL champions who never won the FA Cup, and Iheanacho’s form means Leicester is now two wins ahead of glory. While nothing will beat their 2016 league success, fans will appreciate winning the competition and the club’s return to Wembley this year is bound to cause a stir in the fan base.
While it leaves no room for complacency, the Foxes were likely delighted with their semi-finals draw, where they face a Southampton team that hasn’t been themselves since the turn of the year. Compared to Manchester or Chelsea, this was the last encounter Leicester would have wished for after beating United. . . and the same could be said for saints.
“Nigerians in Europe last weekend”
Adeyemi (@EddyDove) called it an “absolute Nigerian peat festival”
Which African team can boast of the firepower of the Super Eagles @AfricanFtbl right now? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/Fgw85hWd7M
– Destination Africa (@GoalAfrica) April 16, 2021
“”[Southampton] are a strong point; They have top-class individual players and also play as a team, ”Iheanacho told LCFC TV in the run-up to the Sunday game. “We have to do more than them, we have to fight and injure them first in the first half so we don’t have to lag behind.”
“We are always hungry and want to win trophies. Of course, other teams prepare for it too. We have to sacrifice so many things and do our best.”
“That’s what we have to do. In training and in the game we have to do what we can, work extra and give more than what we do. I think we are preparing for it.”
Given Jamie Vardy’s dramatic decline since the turn of the year, it is unlikely that a counter-argument would be put forward if anyone viewed the West African as the key fox who comes into play.
It was the ex-Man City player who won against West Ham United last time the Englishman worked unsuccessfully at the London Stadium when Rodgers’ men gathered late but lost 3-2 to attend the Champions League in jeopardy next year.
To be honest, it has been the case for several months now that Leicester’s top striker is a shadow of his usual self in the attacking third, only scoring once and assisting three in 16 games in 2021. In his first 17 appearances in all competitions that season, Vardy was involved in 17 goals. The delivery since January is staggering.
Although the CL qualification is still in the hands of the club, this weekend is no reason to worry about his place in the European elite in 2021-22. Rather, the East Midlands Club should focus on being back in the home of football, playing in its first FA Cup semi-final in 39 years and attending its first final in half a century.
Iheanacho’s three goals in the competition this season make him Leicester’s top scorer and the formidable front man who overtook Chelsea’s Didier Drogba for FA Cup goals after his quarter-finals refused to replace the Blues legend’s 12 goals.
“I’m proud of it personally, but I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to lose my focus on the game,” said the Nigerian. “After the season, I’ll start thinking about it because we have great weeks in the FA Cup and the Premier League. We need this focus and determination to win games and get where we want.
“I’m in a good place right now, I just have to keep helping my team. I have to work hard every day, the shape is coming now and I just have to keep going.”
Drogba, who by and large made Wembley his playground, was the West London team’s man for the big occasions, a responsibility he dreaded in the closing stages of the competition. Usurping the symbol of Ivory Coast is no easy task, but the job is far from over.
Although Iheanacho made history and caused pain to Leicester fans for nearly four decades, he must now carry the can to include Rodgers’ team in their first FA Cup decision-maker in over 50 years. Given his current form, you wouldn’t bet against him.