English champions, Leicester City’s Champions League fairytale came to a gallant end following a 1-1 quarterfinal draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit, Leicester fell further behind to Saul Niguez’s first-half header, before Vardy’s 61st-minute strike gave them hope.
But despite heavy Leicester pressure and furious noise inside the King Power Stadium, Atletico completed a 2-1 aggregate win to reach the semifinals for the third time in four seasons.
“We had them rattled with the effort and commitment we showed. It’s no discredit to lose to a team of that calibre,” Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare told BT Sport.
“The whole club, from the supporters to the players to the owners can be immensely proud, but I’ve just said to the players that they should want more of this and they’ve agreed that that’s what they want.”
Leicester had hoped to become the competition’s first debutant semifinalists since Villarreal in 2006, but they were unable to engineer a repeat of their last-16 triumph against Sevilla.
Their exit brings to an end a golden adventure sparked by last season’s stunning Premier League title win.
Having successfully staved off the threat of relegation under new manager Craig Shakespeare, the rest of their season now holds nothing more than a return to pre-title normality.
It is the third time Atletico have eliminated Leicester from continental competition, after previous triumphs in the 196162 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 199798 Uefa Cup.
Beaten by city foes Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Diego Simeone’s side can continue to dream that this will be the year they finally end their wait for European football’s biggest prize.
“I’m full of emotion and pride at the performance of my team,” said Simeone.
“I also have to say, what a great performance from our opponents. It was almost a pleasure to compete against them.”