Super Eagles stars Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho played key parts as Leicester beat Chelsea on Saturday to lift its first English FA Cup.
Although it was Youri Tielemans’s sensational screamer that handed Leicester victory, Iheanacho, who had a dour final, has been instrumental throughout the tournament, scoring four goals.
Meanwhile, Ndidi was as solid as ever, playing the full 90 minutes on Saturday.
Five years after the Foxes stunned the Premier League’s giants to become champions, Leicester have now, with the help of the Nigerians, claimed English football’s other prestigious trophy at the fifth time of asking.
Four times they had previously lost the final, but the last of those was 52 years ago.
“Perfect birthday gift for my daughter Loudly,” Ndidi said after the win. “What a feeling having to see the fans again. Thank you everyone.”
Perfect birthday gift for my daughter 😭❤️
What a feeling having to see the fans again
Thank you everyone 🦊💙 pic.twitter.com/rXMmGqPQfC
— Ndidi Wilfred (@Ndidi25) May 15, 2021
“It’s a historical day for the football club,” said Rodgers. “Winning the FA Cup for the first time. I’m so happy for the players and suppporters. They’ve lost four finals and now a fifth time we’ve managed to do it for them.”
A historic week for Rodgers’s men could get even better as they are on the verge of sealing a place in next season’s Champions League.
The sides meet again in three days’ time at Stamford Bridge in a pivotal clash to decide who secures a top-four finish in the Premier League.
And Rodgers suggested his side were the neutrals favourites as they aim to upset the applecart of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ once more.
Chelsea were among the clubs to sign up to the failed, quasi-closed European Super League (ESL) project last month, along with Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal.
“The success of this team and club is getting to positions like this and competing. The so-called bigger clubs are expected to win but our success is competing and if we can perform like today we can go and win,” added Rodgers.
“After everything that has happened this year, I’m sure there were people hoping from a neutral perspective that we could go on and upset the odds.”
Chelsea need a quick response after losing for just the fourth time in 27 games since Thomas Tuchel replaced the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
The Blues also have a Champions League final to look forward to against Manchester City in two weeks’ time, but could end the campaign without silverware or a place in Europe’s premier club competition next season.
“Of course we are disappointed but we are not angry,” said Tuchel. “This performance was enough to win it, today we are simply unlucky. You need luck in this game to be able to win”
Chelsea’s success under Tuchel has come thanks to an excellent defensive record, but their struggles at the other end were again exposed as they rarely threatened until going behind.
The welcome return of noise echoing down from 6,000 fans of each side from both ends of the ground helped mask a general lack of quality on the field for the first hour.
One moment of magic proved decisive as Tielemans collected possession midway inside the Chelsea half and strode forward before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top corner past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Tuchel flexed the strength in depth of his squad in an attempt to find an equaliser as Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz, Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic were all introduced off the bench.
But they were denied by the brilliance of Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.
Chilwell, whose every touch was booed by the Leicester support, twice nearly came back to haunt his old club as his first effort was turned onto the post by the Dane.
Mason Mount then could not believe his luck as his sweetly struck shot was turned behind by a brilliant stop from Schmeichel.
Even when the Leicester ‘keeper was beaten, Chelsea were denied by a VAR review.
Wes Morgan’s attempted clearance deflected in off Chilwell, but the England international had strayed offside in the build-up.
“Thank you VAR! What an amazing technology,” said Tielemans.
Leicester players and fans celebrated the decision like a goal and were in raptures again moments later after seeing out a nervy finale.