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Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group D

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The final group to kickoff at South Africa 2013 has the continent’s two top-rated teams, though there’s a clear favorite to finish first in group F. As always, Cote d’Ivoire was the pick going into Africa’s confederation championship, but with Algeria and Tunisia in their group, the perpetual picks have two capable North African hurdles ahead of a knockout round appearance.

Togo rounds out a quartet that’s been curiously labeled a group of death, one that begins play on Tuesday.

GROUP D: Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Algeria, Togo

COTE D’IVOIRE

World rank: 14; CAF rank: 1; Best finish: Champions in 1992.

They’re the favorite on name value alone, but oh, what a set of names. Les Elephants have the two best players in Africa, talent that makes them obvious favorites. Their results, however, have never matched their reputation, and although Sabri Lamouchi’s team is again touted by the casual fan to take home Africa’s championship, their often excessively casual play has left them title-less over the last two decades.

History: Egypt has seven titles. Ghana and Cameroon have four titles. Even Congo DR has won twice. How has Cote d’Ivoire only won one title in 28 previous editions of this tournament?

It’s not that they haven’t had success in the absolute sense. The Ivorians have finished in the top three seven times, but with three semifinal appearances in the last four tournaments, the Elephants have become Africa’s nearly men, each tournament representing their next chance to not break through.

Players: Sorry Robin van Persie, but Yaya Touré was the English Premier League’s best player last season. While this year he hasn’t replicated the dominant form he showed in 2011-12, he is still Africa’s best player. If he plays for Cote d’Ivoire like he did for Manchester City, Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition.

Then there’s Drogba. He’s 34, been in China for seven months, but Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua) may still be one of the most dangerous players in the world. If he plays like he did in March through May (in Champions League), Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition. (Yes, there are a lot of ways the Ivorians win this competition.)

Then there’s Gervinho (Arsenal), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Siaka Tiéné (Paris Saint-Germain), Emmanuel Eboué (Galatasaray), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor, Turkey), along with a host of other players that would help the Ivorians survive in most of the big European leagues. On paper, they are the best team in this tournament.

How they’ll play: This is a broken record. It comes up in almost every snapshot, and it speaks to the lack of cohesion in these teams. It also explains why, beyond Africa, talented teams like Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and these Ivorians have had limited success in international competitions …

But the midfield will by the key for the Ivorians. Cote d’Ivoire has a great attack, solid defending, and excellent players in the middle, but the way that midfield plays is not enough to get the most out of Drogba, Gervinho, and Max Gradel (Saint Etienne) – the likely starters in Lamouchi’s 4-3-3.

That’s why this year might be different. Whereas in the past the big African teams have relied on the likes of John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, and (lately) Alex Song to transcend their club roles and become more progressive players for their national teams, Yaya Touré — after years of being asked to do the same — has actually played and executed in more advanced positions for City. Now, instead of a team speculating a talented player can flip a switch for three weeks, Cote d’Ivoire has a basis to think this can actually work.

Outlook: This group won’t give the Ivorians any problem. If things go right, you’ll see steady improvement throughout there first two games (and cruise through the third), giving Les Elephants momentum and confidence they can carry into the final eight.

TUNISIA

World rank: 53; CAF rank: 10; Best finish: Champions in 2004.

Hindsight has painted Tunisia’s 2012 run as surprising, the Eagles of Carthage pushing Ghana in the round of eight before losing in extra time. The evaluation shows how overlooked the North Africans have become. Consistent qualifiers and a decent bet to make it our of most groups, the Tunisians have become too predictable to be interesting. As a result, they tend to get overlooked.

History: Tunisia has qualified for 11-straight tournaments, getting out of their group eight times. In that time they’ve made three semifinals, two finals, and won the tournament at home in 2004.

Players: Aymen Abdennour (Toulouse) is the base of the team, the 23-year-old central defender key to the Tunisian back line. Veteran Wissem Ben Yahia (Mersin İdmanyurdu, Turkey) will shield the defense, with Oussama Darragi (Sion) and 22-year-old Youssef Msakni (Kuwait SC) creating in support of the team’s only consistent scoring threat: Issam Jemâa (Kuwait SC).

How they’ll play: A 4-3-3 will allow Msakni, Jemaa and Saber Khelifa (Evian, France) to exhibit a skillful attack that instinctively plays on the counter but is capable of more. The team’s pressing can be problematic for a continental style that’s used to getting time on the ball while approaching the attacking half. That stylistic difference makes Tunisia a difficult matchup for most teams, a difference that’s capable of getting results that transcend their base talent level.

Outlook: This might be the year Tunisia doesn’t advance, which would be no fault of their own. With both Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria in their group, they’ll need to pull one mild upset to get through. It could happen in game one, a match with Algeria that both sides concede would decide the second team out of this group.

ALGERIA

World rank: 22; CAF rank: 2; Best finish: Champions in 1990.

After winning a fall 2009 playoff in Khartoum to advance to the World Cup past African champions Egypt, Algeria went into meltdown mode. They made the final four of Angola 2010 before imploding in the semis against the Pharoahs. At the World Cup, they were best known as the other team on the field during Landon Donovan’s goal.

After failing to qualify for Equatorial Guinea-Gabon in 2012, the Desert Foxes are back, with former Cote d’Ivoire head coach Vahid Halilhodžić trying to bring his heavy-handed stability to a team that was distracted by internal tensions.

History: Like Tunisia, Algeria has a consistent record of qualification, making 15 of the last 18 Cup of Nations. And like Tunisia, the only time they’ve taken home the trophy was when they hosted. That was one of only two times the Foxes have made the final.

Players: The Foxes have undergone a refactoring after their 2009 successes. Gone are players like Nadir Belhadj, Karim Matmour, Kader Ghezzal, Mourad Meghni, and Anthar Yahi – the core of Algeria’s previous team. Halilhodžić’s current team has nobody whose been capped more the 25 times (thanks in part to his omissions of Madjid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche).

Valencia attacker Sofiane Feghouli is the most dangerous man on the current team. He’ll be a problem for every left back he’s match up against this tournament. Veteran Marseille midfelder Foued Kadir will be tasked with finding him, while forward Islam Slimani (Belouizdad, Algeria) will need to take advantage of the chances Feghouli creates. Also expect contributions off the bench from Ryad Boudebouz (Sochaux, France).

At the back, Carl Medjani (Ajaccio, France), Djamel Mesbah (Milan), and Liassine Cadamuro (Real Sociedad) feature in one of the tournament’s better back lines, one that will be protected by Getafe’s Mehdi Lacen.

How they’ll play: Whereas before Algeria would shift between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, now the Halilhodžić has the team going between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, with more of the latter thanks to players like Feghouli, Boudebouz and El Arbi Soudani (Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal). Like other North African teams, they’ve tended to excessive rely on counter attacking in recent years. If you play off the Algerians, you’ll rarely hurt.

Outlook: Most are picking them to get out of this group, but it’s a tossup between them and Tunisia. The order of games might end up deciding who goes through, with Cote d’Ivoire’s (lack of) third game incentives potentially giving one team an advantage.

TOGO

World rank: 110; CAF rank: 31; Best finish: Six group stage exits.

Their place in this group has led to many’s conclusion this is the group of death, but Togo’s reputation is based on the presence of one world class player. Beyond a potentially unstoppable striker, they aren’t much, and given that striker almost skipped the tournament, Didier Six is right to bemoan preparations disrupted by a compensation row.

History: Togo’s only qualified for seven tournaments (participating in six) and has never advanced beyond the group stage. With only one World Cup appearance (where they finished 30th), the Sparrow Hawks have no history of success at major tournaments.

Players: The one other player that has the talent to match the Ivorian duo is Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham). But until last week, it was unclear Togoan No. 9 was going to come to the tournament. At first it was reservations spurring from a 2010 Angolan rebel assault that kept the team out of that year’s championship. Then, it because a question over internal federation issues. Abedayor has been a consistently inconsistent presence for a team that depends on his talents.

Beyond Adebayor, it’s a pretty non-descript squad. Nine players are based in France, with Reims’ 34-year-old goalkeeper Kossi Agassa providing some needed experience. Defender Daré Nibombé (Boussu Dour, Belgium) is the team’s most-capped player with 67 appearances, while veteran Moustapha Salfiou is still a probable starter despite not having a club.

How they’ll play: Another 4-3-3 one that will both leave Emmanuel Adebayor isolated as well as stretch the defense enough to create room for his speed to exploit. His chances will be rare as Togo sees very little control of their matches.

Outlook: Some team has to finish last.

SCHEDULE

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Togo
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Tunisia versus Algeria
Saturday, Jan. 26, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Tunisia
Saturday, Jan, 26, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Togo
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Cote d’Ivoire
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Togo versus Tunisia

Wild guess order of finish:

1. Cote d’Ivoire (7 pts.)
2. Algeria (5 pts.)
3. Tunisia (4 pts.)
4. Togo (0 pts.)

Ranieri says club won’t repeat as Premier League champions, will “continue to build”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Claudio Ranieri knows there’s difficulty ahead for Leicester City, albeit on a relative scale.

The Foxes are Premier League champions after Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Friday, and the Leicester boss is already being asked about a repeat performance.

[ MORE: Ranieri thanks Chelsea | Fans react in Leicester ]

With UEFA Champions League play next year and what is sure to be a tempting transfer market, Ranieri is being pragmatic in his approach. He says they won’t win the PL next season.

From Sky Sports:

“We want to continue to build,” he told SSN HQ’s Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.

“Now the season is out of our project but of course, the foundation is very solid. We know very well we have to fight for the position but we want to do our best. I’m positive and I want to fight.”

You’ll probably say he’s continuing a pattern of being sly — lowering sunglasses — like a fox, as Ranieri started 2015-16 wanting 40 points, then the Top Four, before finally admitting the title was an option.

You think he’s going to claim he’ll repeat? You can cue The Who, because Claudio… we won’t get fooled again.

Thrilled by USMNT prospects, Picault enjoying “freedom” at St. Pauli

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A few weeks back, we asked “Who is Fafa Picault?” and gave you the lowdown on the USMNT-eligible attacker for FC St. Pauli.

Now we’re hearing from the man himself thanks to American Soccer Now.

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

He’s feeling well, thriving in a center forward-type role (He’s also played on the right and a bit on the left).

From American Soccer Now:

“I’m happy with the recent performances,” Picault told American Soccer Now from Hamburg. “I started out well when I first got to the club. It slowed down a bit. I felt a bit out of position. We had more of a defensive approach to the game. It wasn’t really fitting my style. With a few injuries I was able to be the sole striker up top.

“That is exactly what I needed: freedom. So I can express my speed and creativity to look to score or get assists and just be myself. It allows me to be me.”

The Brian Sciaretta-typed piece includes plenty of nuggets on Picault, including which USMNT player has served as his mentor. Read on.

Hiddink, Rose react to chaotic end to Chelsea-Spurs draw

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The dust has settled after an insane London Derby finish between Tottenham and Chelsea, one which has been on the back burner thanks to the 2-2 draw handing Leicester its unlikely title.

So, looking back, wow! Twelve yellow cards set the tone for a post-match fracas with Diego Costa and Michel Vorm at the center. Watch the video above, as men became boys again.

[ MORE: A game-by-game look at Leicester’s run to glory ]

In the fray, Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink ends up on the ground despite his best intentions of playing peacemaker. And both the manager and Spurs defender Danny Rose were left questioning the fray.

From the BBC:

HIDDINK: “Everyone started dancing around and pushing around. More people became involved and we shuffled around. You must not have these type of incidents but it happens and at the end we must all calm down.”

The Dutchman also played down the incident that saw him pushed to the floor, adding: “If you have done some judo and wrestling you can easily fall. Even at my age, I had no problem to fall down.”

ROSE: “It is not nice to see for kids here or kids watching on TV, I apologise if it looked bad on TV,” said Rose.

“It is a London derby. It is to be expected. We wanted to win and they wanted to stop us having any more say in the title race.”

Forget the kids, Danny: The ruckus could’ve set the table for London Derby problems outside the ground. Things happen, for sure, and the end of that match on the pitch was pretty bonkers. Let’s be grateful nothing came of it (besides inevitable suspensions).

Story of Leicester’s success: Game-by-game look at title-winning season

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Leicester City were crowned the 2015-16 Premier League champions on Monday after a magical season which defied belief.

Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes won the club’s first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history after starting the season as 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Now, they’re champions of England and will be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season. It has been an unforgettable season, one of the greatest in sporting history and it is a story that has encapsulated the soccer, and sporting, world.

Here’s a look back at every game this season to remind us of just how magical this journey was.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate

Nicholas Mendola takes us through the first half of the season as momentum built, while Joe Prince-Wright talks us through the second half where they got the job done.


Mendola kicks things off – Game 1 – Leicester 4-2 Sunderland

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Sunderland at The King Power Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

How did we not see this coming? Leicester had an undefeated preseason with wins over mighty Lincoln City, Mansfield Town, Burton Albion, Rotherham United and Birmingham City before turning its attention to Sunderland.

Leicester’s four goals boosted the Foxes to the top of the Premier League on Opening Day, as Marc Albrighton helped produce three goals and Riyad Mahrez scored twice. Leicester scored three times in the first 25 minutes, and Sunderland sank to 20th.

Game 2 – West Ham United 1-2 Leicester

Mahrez stayed hot, and Mainz transplant Shinji Okazaki scored his first Premier League goal as Leicester took a 2-0 lead by halftime. This victory looks even better in retrospect, as Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers went to the next level.

Game 3 – Leicester 1-1 Spurs

Again, the headliner here is Mahrez. Spurs went up 1-0 with 10 minutes to play thanks to a debut PL goal from some guy named Dele Alli, but Leicester’s Algerian wizard quickly equalized with a gorgeous move from the right to score his fourth goal in three matches.

Game 4 – Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester

Leicester again trailed late thanks to a Callum Wilson bicycle kick goal, but Jamie Vardy threw himself a penalty kick party. The 29-year-old dribbled into the box only to get knifed down, and the 86th minute saw him scoring the penalty off a diving Artur Boruc to give the visitors a point.

Game 5 – Leicester 3-2 Aston Villa

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Aston Villa at the King Power Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.

Those impressive moments aside, this is where the magic starts to feel incredibly real. At the time, we didn’t realize Tim Sherwood hadn’t fixed much of anything from the year before, and that Villa was in big trouble.

Villa scored on both sides of halftime, and led the derby 2-0 with about a half hour to play. Ritchie De Laet made it 2-0 thanks to goal line technology, and Vardy tied it up within 8 minutes. Substitute Nathan Dyer scored in the 89th minute to win it, and fans on both sides had very different intonations of “Wow”.

Game 6 – Stoke City 2-2 Leicester

These guys! Vardy and Mahrez scored again, and there was no change in the dramatics from the previous week. Stoke had opened up a 2-0 lead before the twin terrors tabbed late goals, Mahrez by penalty, as the Foxes claimed a point and kept the Potters scrambling near the bottom of the table.

Game 7 – Leicester 2-5 Arsenal

Vardy’s early goal gave Leicester’s home faithful hope that this remarkable run could be on a championship path, but Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners weren’t interested in that sort of story. Alexis Sanchez had a hat trick to join scorers Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud on the sheet. Vardy had another in the blowout, as Foxes don’t quit.

Game 8 – Norwich 1-2 Leicester

Vardy won and converted another crafty penalty to keep his goal-scoring streak alive, and Jeff Schlupp also scored in lifting Leicester to its first win in three matches.

Game 9 – Southampton 2-2 Leicester

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Yet another Vardy-inspired comeback from another 2-0 hole, as the PL’s leading scorer made it nine on the season in canceling out an equally-remarkable pair of unlikely goal scorers on the home end: defenders Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk. The Foxes had 16 points and remained in the Top Five at the close of business, three more than a Saints club they’d need to hold off if European competition was to be (Hint: They did),

Game 10 – Leicester 1-0 Crystal Palace

At the time, it looked like Leicester and Palace would be duking it out for a top half spot, and most would’ve still thought Palace was a more legit option. But… Vardy, again. Palace had a late giveaway that the striker used to beat Julian Speroni and move four points clear of the visitors.

Game 11 – West Brom 2-3 Leicester

Salomon Rondon opened the scoring for Tony Pulis‘ Baggies, and surely it’d be hard to break down a lead-holding WBA. Marc Albrighton’s magical crosses continued to find the mark, and Mahrez tied the match at 1 before using a back post volley to make it 2-1. Danny Drinkwater then played in Vardy for an insurance tally that made the English striker the third player in PL history to score in 8-straight games, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Daniel Sturridge. Impressive company, no?

Game 12 – Leicester 2-1 Watford

Kasper Schmeichel‘s big saves prepared another feast for Leicester, and Vardy devoured history on the way. N'Golo Kante gave the Foxes the lead when Heurelho Gomes bungled a fairly routine save, and the keeper later took down Vardy for yet another PK. Nine-straight.

Game 13 – Newcastle United 0-3 Leicester

“Leicester City is for real, and so is Jamie Vardy‘s place in history.”

So began our recap of the Foxes’ thumping of the Magpies at St. James Park, as Vardy worked a 1-2 with Leonardo Ulloa to join Ruud van Nistelrooy as the only players in Premier League history to score goals in 10-straight matches. Ulloa later added one of his own, joining Okazaki on the list of scorers in the clean sheet victory.

Game 14 – Leicester 1-1 Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: A message to congratulate Jamie Vardy of Leicester City on the new Premier League record of scoring 11 consecutive games is displayed at the screen after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The first of Leicester’s 1-1 draws with the Red Devils was the day Vardy became immortal (so to speak, as an actual immortal Vardy is pretty terrifying). How fitting that Vardy became the first PL player to score in 11-straight games against RVN’s team, and that he slotted past impressive backstop David De Gea to do it. Bastian Schweinsteiger provided the equalizer, and Leicester was level on points with first place Man City.

Game 15 – Swansea 0-3 Leicester

As we’d later learn from a 4-0 decision at King Power, Leicester was a major matchup problem for the Premier League’s Welsh mainstays. Mahrez was greedy, scoring all of Leicester’s goals as Vardy’s streak ran its course in Wales.

Game 16 – Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

If you’re like me, you thought the Foxes were entering a four-match run that would halt their title momentum for good. So, if you’re like me, you were really wrong. Mahrez found Vardy before scoring himself, and Chelsea could only manage a Loic Remy goal near the end in a notable win for Leicester.

Game 17 – Everton 2-3 Leicester

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mate Marc Albrighton (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Leicester City at Goodison Park on December 19, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

This was one of those days that symbolized the good fortune needed to win a title, as Mahrez converted penalty kicks in both halves. Shinji Okazaki added a third goal to make it 3-1, and Leicester held on for a win at Goodison Park.

Game 18 – Liverpool 1-0 Leicester

DYK: The Foxes were capable of being blanked? Christian Benteke, of all people, gave the Reds a home win to put Leicester in the loss column for the second time this season.

Game 19 – Leicester 0-0 Manchester City

Another day without a goal for Leicester wasn’t too worrying, as the Foxes held Man City off the scoresheet to stay ahead of the visitors on the Premier League table.


JPW takes up the story – Game 20 – Leicester 0-0 Bournemouth

A game where the Cherries were reduced to 10-men but somehow Leicester couldn’t find a way through. This definitely felt like two points dropped for Ranieri’s side.

Game 21Tottenham 0-1 Leicester

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Spurs hit the crossbar, went close on several occasions but Leicester held on. Then, on a cold January night at the Lane, Robert Huth scored a late winner to send the away fans wild.

Game 22Aston Villa 1-1 Leicester

Another little blip for the Foxes against their Midlands rivals Villa. Okazaki gave Leicester the lead but Rudy Gestede‘s late equalizer got Villa a point.

Game 23Leicester 3-0 Stoke

This win sent Leicester three points clear at the top as Danny Drinkwater netted his first Leicester goal, plus Vardy ended his seven-game drought.

Game 24Leicester 2-0 Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Jamie Vardy (C) of Leicester City controls the ball against Dejan Lovren (R) and Mamadou Sakho (L) of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Vardy belted in a sensational volley to down a spirited Liverpool side who had looked the more likely to go ahead. The Foxes were now starting to truly believe.

Game 25Manchester City 1-3 Leicester

If the Liverpool win gave them belief, victory at title rivals Man City almost handed Leicester the advantage in the title race. Mahrez dazzled City and Huth scored two crucial goals and the Foxes were now six points clear. “We’re going to win the league!” was sung by the Leicester fans, perhaps for the first time they truly believed it.

Game 26Arsenal 2-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City react after Danny Welbeck of Arsenal scored the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

This was the game where everybody thought the wheels had come off. Vardy’s PK gave them an early lead but a goal from Walcott and then a last-gasp winner from Welbeck had everyone believing Arsenal would now take hold of the title and the Foxes would crumble…

Game 27Leicester 1-0 Norwich

Perhaps one of the most important 1-0 wins, Leicester left it incredibly late with Leonardo Ulloa scoring a stoppage-time winner. His goal actually caused mini-earthquakes at the KP Stadium, according to records of seismic activity.

Game 28Leicester 2-2 West Brom

The Baggies battled hard with Leicester and Craig Gardner‘s fabulous free kick grabbed the Baggies a point. Leicester’s lead was now down to just three points at the top.

Game 29Watford 0-1 Leicester

This was the start of the Foxes incredible run of 1-0 wins. Mahrez, again, provided a magic moment with a fine, curling goal from the edge of the box. The Algerian wizard was the difference.

Game 30Leicester 1-0 Newcastle

Okazaki’s fine overhead kick was the winner this time as Rafael Benitez tasted defeat on his managerial debut for Newcastle.

Game 31Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mate Jamie Vardy (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Leicester City at Selhurst Park on March 19, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Mahrez, again, was the hero as Vardy crossed for him in the first half and he swept home. Palace hit the bar and had shots cleared off the line late on. Leicester fans sing “We’re going to win the league!” louder and longer than ever before. They were now eight points clear at the top.

Game 32Leicester 1-0 Southampton

I was at the KP and said it on the day: this felt like the day Leicester won the Premier League. Wes Morgan‘s powerful first half header won it for the Foxes, with penalty calls going their way in a tight game. Doughnuts and beer were handed out to all home fans to celebrate the chairman’s birthday in the sun. A real party atmosphere and the dream was inching closer.

Game 33Sunderland 0-2 Leicester

Vardy scored twice in the second half and Jack Rodwell missed a glorious chance as the Foxes overcame the Black Cats. Ranieri was overcome with emotion at the final whistle as he began crying on the pitch.

Game 34Leicester 2-2 West Ham

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Controversy galore. Vardy put Leicester ahead early but was sent off in the second half for simulation. Pandemonium as he then launched an attack on the referee and received a further game ban. At the other end West Ham scored twice in three minutes to turn the game on its head, the first a penalty kick, as the Hammers look to have ruined the party. However, a very dubious late penalty kick was awarded by the under-fire referee, Jon Moss, and Ulloa slotted it home to send the KP wild. Leicester had dodged a massive bullet.

Game 35Leicester 4-0 Swansea

No Vardy, no problem. Ulloa scored twice as the stand in and he Foxes moved eight points clear. Spurs slipped up at home the following day against West Brom, so they were now within three points of the title.

Game 36 Manchester United 1-1 Leicester

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Wes Morgan of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's opening goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Morgan canceled out Martial’s early strike and despite penalty calls and United pushing late on, the Foxes held on. That meant anything other than a win for Tottenham against Chelsea on Monday meant they would win the title. Spurs were 2-0 up… then crumbled and Eden Hazard’s late equalizer sealed their first-ever title win in their 132-year history. Cue parties, euphoria and excitement on the streets of Leicester.

Game 37 – Leicester – Everton – TBD

The title will be handed to the Foxes in front of their own fans on Saturday. The players were partying long into the night so don’t expect too many goals or fine performances this Saturday. Who cares though? A ticket to this game will be the hottest ticket in town and were being sold for more than $11,000 each three weeks ago.

Game 38 – Chelsea – Leicester – TBD

On the final day Leicester will travel to the team they took the title from, Chelsea. The Blues drew with Spurs to clinch the crown for Leicester and former Chelsea boss Ranieri will return to his former club as a champion. You couldn’t have written the script better. Bellissimo.