WHEN the moment arrived, 63 minutes in, it felt like an assault on the senses.
The beauty of a rising, bending 30-yarder, the bulging of the net, the roar of the crowd and the frenzy of wild limbs.
It felt as if football had woken from a 14-month coma.
The doors are open, the fans are back, a group of European Super League snakes have been slayed, Gary Lineker is sobbing with joy, and happy days are here again.
Youri Tielemans won the FA Cup – Leicester’s first success in five finals, the last way back in 1969 – with an absolute screamer met with absolute screams.
Then a moment of extraordinary drama in the 89th minute as Chelsea were denied an equaliser by a tight VAR call and the Foxes fans went potty again, seconds after believing their dreams had been dashed.
Brendan Rodgers has his first major trophy in English football – a reward for two seasons of thrilling over-achievement.
Jamie Vardy has completed his unique journey from the preliminary rounds to Wembley glory.
And even if this was not a great match, the passion of the crowd and the quality of the winner made this a day to savour.
Many of us feared Leicester could end a wonderful campaign without a trophy or Champions League qualification.
But Chelsea, so relentless under Thomas Tuchel until their midweek defeat by Arsenal, are the team suddenly threatening to blow it.
They face Leicester against at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in a six-pointer for a top-four finish and then they meet Manchester City in the Champions League Final in Porto.
But this defeat – their second in successive FA Cup Finals, both of which they started as favourites – will have bruised them. They are no longer a team with momentum.
Leicester were far from their best – but Wesley Fofana was magnificent in defence, after the early withdrawal of Jonny Evans; teenager Luke Thomas was outstanding at wing-back, Tielemans was masterful and Kasper Schmiechel made one outstanding late save.
Finally, here was a proper crowd – 22,000, the largest attendance at a British match since March of last year.
And a proper Cup Final – a choir and a brass band for Abide With Me, a (handshake-free) pre-match line-up for Prince William and public urination on Wembley Way.
For Leicester supporters, in particular, this was a day of days – a first FA Cup Final in 52 years and a first chance to watch their heroes in 14 months.
Some of them appeared to have been attempting 14 months worth of drinking in one day but who could blame them?
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Jonny Evans was passed fit but lasted just 32 minutes before he was replaced by Marc Albrighton.
James Maddison was left on the bench with former Leicester man Ben Chilwell and the in-form Kai Havertz the most notable omissions from Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea’s German boss stationed Reece James in a back three to combat the pace of Jamie Vardy – and James soon blocked a Vardy shot.
But as the rain hosed it down, Chelsea were getting a grip on proceedings – Mason Mount swivelling past Caglar Soyuncu and having a shot deflected wide.
Then Kante won possession and fed Timo Werner who skied an effort into the jeering Leicester fans, before Cesar Azplicueta failed to connect from close range after Werner headed on a Thiago Silva cross.
Werner had two shots blocked by Wesley Fofana and was promptly booked for a frustrated lunge at Luke Thomas.
After Evans withdrew, Timothy Castagne moved into Leicester’s back three and a dozy pass from wing-back Albrighton sent Werner scurrying through for a shot which was deflected wide.
Leicester showed very little going forward – Soyuncu and Vardy both heading tamely wide but Chelsea looked stronger across the pitch.
Leicester began the second half with more intent – Fofana bullish in defence, Tielemans visionary in midfield and Chelsea were being pinned back.
Then when James had a pass out of defence intercepted Luke Thomas squared for Tielemans to send a bending, rising 25-yarder past Kepa Arrizabalaga and into the net.
It was Leicester’s first effort on target – indeed the first meaningful such effort for either side – but it was worth the wait, an instant Cup Final classic.
Rogers responded by sending on Maddison for Kelechi Iheancho, who had been well-shackled by Toni Rudiger, while Tuchel introduced Christian Pulisic and Chilwell.
And Chilwell was soon heading against the post as Chelsea prepared a late onslaught.
Mount then drilled in a volley and Schmeichel plunged low to his left to save brilliantly.
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Then the moment of mayhem as Schmeichel failed to gather a Chilwell cross, Soyuncu lunged at the loose ball, which crossed the line off veteran club captain and sub Wes Morgan.
Chelsea celebrated wildly but they had not accounted for VAR, which judged that Chilwell was fractionally offside with his initial run.
A minute later, Leicester’s supporters had soared from the depths of despair to another bout of unadulterated joy as VAR Chris Kavanagh had his decisive say.
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