Brendan Rodgers determined to top Europa League group after Leicester progress

PA

Brendan Rodgers has his sights set on topping the group after seeing his Leicester side qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Braga in Portugal.

With Zorya Luhansk beating AEK Athens in the other game in Group G, a draw was good enough for the Foxes to seal qualification with two matches remaining.

Their chance looked to have gone after Fransergio restored Braga’s lead for the third time on the night in stoppage time, but Jamie Vardy pounced with 95 minutes on the clock to snatch a point and with it a place in the next round.

Leicester remain three points ahead of Braga in the group, courtesy of their 4-0 win against the Portuguese at the King Power Stadium a fortnight ago, and Rodgers wants it to stay that way.

“It’s great to qualify, confirming qualification is obviously great for us. That was the objective at the beginning and now the next ambition is to go on and win the group, so that’s what we’ll look to achieve,” said the Foxes boss.

“With so many games coming up at least we now know we can manage the squad and maybe give players a rest, but we are still hungry.”

There were two goals in the first nine minutes in Portugal as Harvey Barnes cancelled out Ali Al Musrati’s opener. Paulinho struck midway through the first half to restore Braga’s lead and it remained that way until 13 minutes from time.

By Rodgers’ own admission, Leicester improved in the second half and he introduced Vardy and James Maddison from the bench just after the hour after sensing there was something in the game for the Foxes.

He was proved right, as Maddison teed up Luke Thomas for the second equalising goal and Vardy struck late on to make it 3-3.

Asked if those two substitutions were decisive, the Foxes boss said: “Definitely. Our plan was to play the system we were in, and if we had to chase the game we would change the shape 3-1-4-2 and those players would change the dynamic of the game. They are highly gifted players and they made a big difference.

“In the first half we were too slow in our movement, too static and we weren’t aggressive enough. In the second half, we were outstanding. We changed our system, as we had talked about before the game.

“Youri (Tielemans) came on and dictated the tempo of the game. In the second half we were excellent with the football and Youri and James (Maddison) were the catalysts for that.”

Braga remain in a strong position to qualify from the group and manager Carlos Carvalhal was still upbeat despite the defeat.

“It was a spectacular game. We played face to face against a great opponent,” said Carvalhal.

“Our players were fantastic in approaching the game and we showed that we had the intention to win. We were better in the first half, they were better in the second. We are satisfied, not for the point achieved, but for the performance we produced.

“Leicester are a very strong team. Apart from the last game in which they conceded three goals to Liverpool, we knew that they are a very solid team defensively and we managed to score three goals.

“Our players were incredible. It is a great satisfaction to see our team playing like this against an opponent like Leicester.”