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FA Cup: Youri Tielemans’ strike is good enough to grace any final


Leicester City's Youri Tielemans celebrates scoring the only goal of yesterday's FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Matt Childs/PA

Leicester City's Youri Tielemans celebrates scoring the only goal of yesterday's FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Matt Childs/PA

Leicester City's Youri Tielemans celebrates scoring the only goal of yesterday's FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Matt Childs/PA

With 63 minutes gone at Wembley, Luke Thomas, born in Charnwood, Leicestershire, and still only 19, picked up a loose pass and fed it forward to Youri Tielemans in a sudden pocket of open green space.

Tielemans is the note of real, high-end quality in Leicester City’s midfield. In an opening scoreless hour at Wembley he had been tight, disciplined and defensively smart. Leicester had yet to muster a genuine shot on target but they carried a constant threat.

Tielemans’ passing had been neat. There were four snaking crosses too, looking to find a sliver of space down the side of Chelsea’s back three. Now he had some grass in front of him and he began to run.

The FA Cup final is marked by a folk history of impossibly vivid goals. It’s a Wembley thing too. In pre-modern times it was something about the basic structure of the netting, the old, rigid square corners that seemed to urge the ball to come clanking down out of its metal corners.

Wembley feels big too. Something about the space behind the goals seems to invite shots from distance. Tielemans had found that space after a misplaced pass from Reece James, who had been excellent all afternoon.

The pass from Thomas was instant. He looked up, saw a bit more space, took another couple of steps.

Until that moment this final had been even, intense, slow-burn but still gripping, given a shot of throbbing, startling life by the energy from the stands. This was the story so far.

Fourteen months on from the paradigm shift, the sideways leap to football in the time of plague with its robot crowds and managerial screams, the sense of headache-football, of synthesised intensity, something strange happened at Wembley. A football match broke out.

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It was a joy just to luxuriate in all that human noise. At times in the first half it felt like having your ears syringed after more than a year of digital buzz.

There was a nice moment at 4.34pm as the Leicester players came out before kick-off and the western end of this vast grey bowl was suddenly alive, as a rolling wave of warmth began to break around the scattered Leicester City supporters.

Fans always clap their teams. This was something else though, a kind of embrace.

There were pantomime boos, also, for the Chelsea players, which carried a similar medicinal effect, and then a huge ovation for Tielemans and Jamie Vardy as they walked across to start a running drill and waved and clapped and drank in that human heat.

It was a reminder that so much of sport is the spectacle, the sense of collectivism, the crowd simply existing in that space.

That feeling was there an hour later as Tielemans kept on running towards the Chelsea goal.

Steadily the Leicester end began to rise. It is a familiar feeling from the pre-plague times, that collective sense that something is about to happen, that space is stirring, energy being displaced.

The FA Cup has a history of great goals, of long shots, of nets bulged. Tielemans had 10 goals this season coming into this game. He looked up and started to measure his final stride. 

Chelsea had dominated the space for much of the first half. Leicester fell back into a five-strong defensive bolt out of possession. But they were quick to break, Vardy a constant pest.

Timo Werner had found space on the right, taking up that position on the halfway line, crouched in the starting blocks for a ball over the top. But time and again he found Wesley Fofana there next to him, a defender with the rare ability to match him over those short distances.

Twice Fofana produced bravura blocks in the box. What a player he is, and what rich dividend for Leicester’s scouting and coaching networks: a central defender who looks capable of playing anywhere, or taking his game to whatever level he chooses.

After half-time Leicester began to push a little harder, to play further up. It was from those advanced positions that the ball ended up with Tielemans. Looking up he saw Kepa Arrizabalaga in the centre of his goal, but still 30 yards away.

There was only one way for the shot to go: diagonally, right to left, not breaking stride, the ball rising and fading away from Kepa’s right hand, then meeting the top corner with that bravura bulge.

The noise inside Wembley was extraordinary in that moment. A gathering clamour that erupted into a huge, hot wall of sound as the Leicester players ran to the crowd.

And somehow they were always going to hang on, helped by one supreme diving save from Kasper Schmeichel.

Football got something back here too, in a game given its grace note by a goal fit to win any Cup final.


© Observer

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