Leicester City put their Premier League struggles to one side as they booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Club Brugge.
A fourth victory in five outings in the tournament, coupled with Porto’s 0-0 draw away in Copenhagen, means the English champions will go through to the last 16 as Group G winners.
Shinji Okazaki fired the home team in front after just five minutes at the King Power Stadium – and they doubled their advantage before the break from the penalty spot.
Riyad Mahrez continued his fine European form with a fourth goal of the campaign, although Claudio Ranieri’s side were made to work right through to the final whistle after Jose Izquierdo halved the deficit in the 52nd minute.
The Colombian became the first opposing player to score against Leicester in the competition, yet his powerful drive proved to be no more than a consolation for a Brugge squad now certain to finish bottom of the table.
Leicester may have their domestic issues – they sit just two points clear of the relegation zone following Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Watford – but playing in Europe clearly inspires them.
Their opening goal bought back memories of their title triumph from the last campaign, as Danny Drinkwater won the ball just outside his own penalty area to kick-start a lightning counter attack.
Christian Fuchs carried the ball down the left before picking out the waiting Okazaki at the near post with a low cross. The forward produced a first-time finish to give the hosts an ideal start, although he fluffed an almost identical chance soon after when Club Brugge again left him unmarked.
However, the second goal that Leicester’s dominance merited eventually arrived on the half-hour mark.
Marc Albrighton’s turn on the left edge of the area sent him tumbling over Dion Cools’ outstretched leg, with French referee Ruddy Buquet immediately pointing to the spot.
Mahrez hammered his effort down the middle, putting Leicester in complete control against opponents who had only scored once so far in the group stages of the competition.
The party mood inside the stadium was briefly extinguished when Izquierdo out-paced Fuchs before smashing a right-footed shot beyond Ron-Robert Zieler.
Jamie Vardy believed he’d restored the two-goal cushion when he flicked in Fuchs’ centre, only for the referee’s assistant to correctly cut short the celebrations by raising his flag for offside.
Hans Vanaken was denied an equaliser at the other end for the same reason, yet Brugge sensed the possibility of getting back on level terms.
Although substitutes Jeffrey Schlupp and Demarai Gray spurned opportunities to put the game to bed, Leicester held firm to make sure they would finish at the summit of the group.
Key Opta stats:
– Leicester have now won more games in the Champions League (four) than they have in the Premier League (three) this season.
– Shinji Okazaki is the sixth Japanese player to score a Champions League goal and the first since Keisuke Honda in November 2013.
– The Foxes are the fifth English team to qualify through their first Champions League group stage, following Chelsea (1999/2000), Leeds (2000/2001), Liverpool (2001/02) and Spurs (2010/11).
– José Izquierdo’s goal was from the 54th shot that Leicester faced in the Champions League this season.
– Club Brugge are the first Belgian side to lose their first five Champions League group games since Anderlecht in 2005/06.
– Belgian sides have now lost 12 of their last 14 meetings with English opposition in the Champions League (D2) since Anderlecht won 2-1 against Manchester United in October 2000.