With the sun setting over the Istanbul skyline, tens of thousands of fans made their way through the turnstiles at the city’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium – as Manchester City prepared to face Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final.
Yet buildup to this iconic fixture was plagued by reports of transport issues, leaving a significant number of fans commuting from the city centre stranded, having to fork out hundreds for cramped taxi journeys, or simply walking along the side of major motorways. Though upon arrival, supporters were in high sprits – joyous in the knowledge that Manchester City were potentially just ninety minutes from completing a historic treble and being crowned as the Kings of Europe for the very first time.
MCI: Ederson; Akanji, Dias, Akanji; Rodri, Stones; Grealish, Gundogan, De Bruyne, B. Silva; Haaland
INT: Onana; Bastoni, Acerbi, Darmian; Dimarco, Calhanoglu, Brozovic, Barella, Dumfries; Dzeko, Martinez
City would hope that the opening minutes weren’t to define their evening, as a huge opportunity for Erling Haaland to open the scoring went amiss – with the Norwegian blasting over the bar from a tight angle. The Mancunians certainly weren’t lacking creativity early on though, as neat interplay allowed Bernardo Silva to fire a shot off from the right flank though that too missed the target.
Yet their Italian opponents remained fiercely motivated, with Lautaro Martinez in particular seemingly unwilling to concede the ball under any circumstances. For all of City’s dominance, Inter were managing to create a handful of high-quality opportunities, and it looked as if it would just be a matter of time before they found the back of the net – but when the moment arose, a rather rushed effort from Marcelo Brozovic was spurned over the woodwork. It seemed as though that would be a recurring theme in this match, as Nicolo Barella attempted an audacious chip from distance rather than laying the ball off to Edin Dzeko or Lautaro Martinez.
Erling Haaland had the ability to be the man who would define this football match – though it certainly hadn’t gone as planned for the ex-Dortmund striker. His earlier missed opportunity was followed by another squandered chance, with the Norwegian blasting an effort against the palm of Andre Onana.
A rather unfortunate enforced substitution towards the end of the half saw Kevin De Bruyne replaced by Phil Foden – and with City’s midfield maestro forced to sit out the remainder of the game, would that provide Internazionale with the spark they were missing? It bore a rather bizarre resemblance to the last UEFA Champions League Final held at this ground, when Harry Kewell was forced off midway through the opening half: we all know what happened on that day!
A thunderous strike from Manuel Akanji flew just wide of the top-left corner, signalling the end of the first-half action at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium. The match so far certainly hadn’t gone according to plan for Pep Guardiola and his men, with it all to play for in the second half. The nerves among Manchester City’s travelling contingent were palpable at half-time – they thought it’d be wrapped up by now. Those hopes couldn’t be further from reality.
As Manuel Akanji switched off at the back just before the hour mark, Lautaro Martinez was given a priceless chance to open the scoring – right in front of the Nerazzuri’s travelling support. To the relief of the City fans though, the onrushing Ederson was able to deny the Argentine forward.
Internazionale’s watertight defence was ultimately breached in the 68th minute – albeit not by the likes of Erling Haaland or the seemingly unstoppable Ilkay Gundogan. Rodri was the scorer, pouncing on a poor clearance to thump a thunderous strike between Onana and the post to send thousands of City fans into sheer euphoria.
Their lead was quickly under threat though, as a moment of madness inside their own penalty area saw Federico Dimarco’s headed effort strike the woodwork. Despite numerous attempted followups, the Nerazzurri weren’t able to find a way past Ederson on this attempt.
Yet just mere minutes from the final whistle, their celebrations came painstakingly close to being cut short. Romelu Lukaku connected beautifully with a cross into the box, and his header seemed destined to trickle over the line – but for the perfectly-positioned leg of Ederson to deny the Belgian.
City’s lengthy wait for European silverware has finally reached a conclusion, as Pep Guardiola’s side lift the UEFA Champions League trophy in Istanbul. Thirteen years on from Liverpool’s historic win on this very turf, the Citizens have replicated the feat courtesy of Rodri’s sweet strike in the 68th minute. Of course, this is more than just the Champions League, as it completes their Treble – having already lifted the Premier League and the FA Cup.