Former Leicester winger Steve Guppy has backed the Foxes to shock Atletico Madrid 20 years on from his own European heartbreak.
The ex-England international believes the class of 2017 can keep their dream alive, ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Vicente Calderon.
Guppy was part of the last Foxes squad to face Atletico in the UEFA Cup first round in 1997 when Martin O’Neill’s men were knocked out 4-1 on aggregate.
A 2-0 home loss followed a 2-1 first-leg defeat in Madrid after Guppy conceded a dubious penalty in Spain and Garry Parker was sent off at Filbert Street.
But Guppy insisted Craig Shakespeare’s side, the last English team left in the competition after knocking out Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate in the last 16, can reach the semi-finals.
“They can win, absolutely. Atletico are a very durable side, have a lot of experience in the Champions League, have good players but will be concerned about Leicester’s strengths,” he told Press Association Sport.
“What they’ve achieved is simply phenomenal and they have raised the bar. To win the Premier League shocked the world.
“But I’m proud of the time I had at Leicester and proud of the team Martin assembled. We were a really good team and were capable of beating Madrid – and were close to doing it – but this group are also capable of beating Madrid. It’s their turn to see if they can do it.
“For us there were certainly a few feelings of ‘if only’ and it could have been a lot different.
“But there’s a lot of things happening to this Leicester team and the chances are they will never come round again. They have earned the right to be there. With the celebrations after the Sevilla game you could tell they were really blown away by the achievement.”
Leicester’s last trip to Madrid was the first time the Foxes had played in Europe for 35 years after they won the 1997 League Cup, beating Middlesbrough 1-0 in a replay at Hillsborough.
Atletico were one of the favourites for the competition – which was eventually won by Inter Milan – having signed Juninho from Middlesbrough and Christian Vieri from Juventus and went onto reach the semi-finals, losing to Lazio.
Guppy, who is part of O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland backroom staff, said: “It was a great experience, we earned the right to play in Europe by winning the League Cup and to draw Atletico was a plumb tie.
“We started off really well and got our noses in front. I remember Ian Marshall, with his all-action style, was causing them a lot of problems. He was someone they weren’t used to in the Spanish league.
“Sadly he got injured after the goal and that changed the tie.
“That was our first taste of European football – maybe Tony Cottee had but none of us had played in Europe before. If we’d drawn a team not as strong we might have got further but we were straight in the deep end.”
After Marshall put Leicester ahead 11 minutes in the striker came off with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Steve Claridge.
Juninho equalised with 21 minutes to go before Guppy conceded the match-winning penalty three minutes later when full-back Delfi Geli went down under his challenge.
Vieri scored to win the first leg and, while the incident remains fresh in Guppy’s mind, he took some satisfaction in Geli’s high-profile mishap a few years later.
“At the time I was put out because I knew it was a dive. Now I look back and know I was wrong to go to ground,” said the 48-year-old, who made 189 appearances for the Foxes in two spells.
“I’d timed it wrong so I started to pull my leg away but sadly for me he started to follow it even more.
“It was a surreal situation where I was trying to pull my leg away and he was trying to catch up with it. Of course he fell over and the ref gave it.
“Years later Geli scored an own goal playing for Alaves in the UEFA Cup final against Liverpool (in 2001). Rightly or wrongly I had a little chuckle to myself that maybe what goes around comes around.”