Kelechi Iheanacho is possibly looking forward to Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton even more than his Leicester City teammates.
Usually, the FA Cup provides some level of distraction for wobbling sides who tend to welcome the interruption to their league malaise, but this is not just any game for the Foxes.
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Ask any local fan and you’re likely to hear the same thing: the supporters being delighted at the prospect of making it to their first final at the sport’s oldest cup competition in a couple of generations.
Having failed to play in the last four since 1982, Iheanacho’s heroics in the last stage against Manchester United meant Brendan Rodgers got more joy at this round after suffering defeat at the hands of Chelsea last year.
The Nigeria front man netted twice and set up another in the Foxes’ deserved 3-1 victory over a pitiful Red Devils side, carrying the 2016 Premier League champions into the final four.
Their last appearance in a final was in 1969, and the gap of 52 years is truly staggering.
They are the only PL champions to never win the FA Cup, and Iheanacho’s form means Leicester is now two wins away from glory. While nothing will ever beat their 2016 league success, supporters will cherish victory in the competition and the club’s return to Wembley this year has to elicit excitement in the fan base.
While it leaves no room for complacency, the Foxes were probably pleased by their semifinal draw which pits them with a Southampton side that hasn’t been itself since the turn of the year. Compared to Manchester or Chelsea, this was the last-four encounter Leicester would have have desired after beating United . . . and the same could be said for Saints.
??Nigerian’s in Europe Last Weekend??
Adeyemi ⚽⚽ @EddyDove called it an ‘absolute Nigerian goal fiesta’ ?
— Goal Africa (@GoalAfrica) April 16, 2021
“[Southampton] are a strong side; they have quality individual players and they play as a team as well,” Iheanacho told LCFC TV in the build-up to Sunday’s match. “We need to do more than them, we need to fight and hurt them first in the first half, so we don’t need to go behind.
“We always have that hunger and desire to win trophies, of course, other teams are preparing as well. We need to sacrifice so many things and give our best shot.
“That’s what we need to do. In training and on the game, we need to do what we can, work extra and give extra than what we do, I think we are getting ready to do that.”
Given the dramatic decline of Jamie Vardy since the turn of the year, a counterargument is unlikely to be presented if anyone earmarks the West African as the Foxes’ key man going into the game.
It was the ex-Man City player who thrived against West Ham United last time out when the Englishman toiled without success at the London Stadium as Rodgers’ men rallied late on but lost 3-2 to put next year’s Champions League participation in jeopardy.
Frankly, it’s been that way for a few months now with Leicester’s top striker a shadow of his usual self in the attacking third, scoring only once and assisting three in 16 games in 2021. In his opening 17 appearances in all competitions this term, Vardy was involved in 17 goals. The drop-off since January is jarring.
Even though CL qualification is still in the club’s hand, this weekend isn’t for worrying over its place among Europe’s elite in 2021-22. Rather, the East Midlands club ought to be focused on being back at the Home of Football, featuring in its first FA Cup semi in 39 years and looking to take part in its first final in a half-century.
Iheanacho’s three goals in the competition this season makes him Leicester’s top scorer and the in-form front man who overtook Chelsea’s Didier Drogba for FA Cup goals after his quarterfinal brace wasn’t keen to dwell on supplanting the Blues legend’s 12 strikes.
“Personally, I’m proud of it but I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to lose my focus on the game,” the Nigerian stated. “After the season, I will start thinking about it because we have big weeks in the FA Cup and the Premier League. We need that concentration and determination to win games and get to where we want.
“I’m in a good place at the moment, I just need to keep helping my team. I need to put in the hard work every day, the form is coming now and I just need to keep going.”
Drogba, who by and large made Wembley his playground, was the West London side’s man for the big occasions, a responsibility which made him feared in the competition’s closing stages. Usurping the Ivory Coast icon is no mean feat, but the job is far from done.
Despite making history and ending nearly four decades of pain for Leicester fans, Iheanacho now has to carry the can to take Rodgers’ side into their first FA Cup decider in over 50 years. Given his current form, you wouldn’t bet against him.