Newcastle qualifies for Champions League for first time in 20 years

Newcastle qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years after drawing with Leicester 0-0 in the English Premier League on Monday, a milestone moment for a Saudi-controlled club with the resources and ambition to become a major force in European soccer.

The point ensured Newcastle cannot be denied a top-four finish heading into its final game of the season, at Chelsea on Sunday.

Leicester’s campaign-closing game has far more riding on it, with the team still in the relegation zone and needing a win at home to West Ham to avoid falling into the second-tier Championship — seven years after winning the Premier League at preseason odds of 5,000-1 in a sporting fairytale.

Newcastle swarmed all over Leicester at St. James’ Park, hitting the post on three occasions — through Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Bruno Guimaraes — and forcing a series of saves from goalkeeper Daniel Iversen.

Still, it was job done for Newcastle, which was last in Europe’s top club competition in 2003 when it reached the second group stage before finishing below Barcelona and Inter Milan. These are the types of European heavyweights Newcastle’s players will be mixing with next season.

“We beat Juventus here 1-0 and I’ve seen that on DVDs — to hopefully be a part of it and be involved in those nights is something special,” Newcastle midfielder Sean Longstaff said.

Third-placed Newcastle moved a point ahead of Manchester United, which can also guarantee a top-four spot by avoiding defeat at home to Chelsea on Thursday.

United is the only team fifth-placed Liverpool can catch now.

Playing in the Champions League so soon is probably beyond the expectations of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which completed a 300-million-pound ($409 million) buyout of Newcastle in October 2021 and has spent methodically rather than lavishly since.

“If you told us two years ago this was going to happen, we wouldn’t have believed you,” Longstaff said.

Leicester climbed above Leeds on goal difference and is in third-to-last place, two points behind Everton.

With last-placed Southampton already confirmed as relegated, two of Leeds, Leicester and Everton will also go down.

“We’ve got to win the game,”″ Leicester defender Harry Souttar said of the match against West Ham. “We’ll go in there with a positive mindset and whatever happens, happens.”

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