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ISTANBUL, Turkey – Manchester City finally expanded their domestic domination across the continent as they beat Inter Milan, 1-0, with a second-half Rodri goal to win the Champions League for the first time and complete a rare treble on a nervous Saturday evening, June 10 (Sunday, June 11, Manila time).
Pre-match talk of a stroll to European soccer’s most-cherished crown was off the mark, however, and it took a precise Rodri finish after 68 minutes to crack Inter’s resistance.
Even then City’s massed ranks had their heads in their hands as Inter threatened to drag a cagey final into extra time with goalkeeper Ederson making two superb late saves.
An eruption of joy greeted the final whistle with City’s players sprinting towards their fans in the Ataturk Stadium.
“You have to be lucky… It was written in the stars. It belongs to us,” said City manager Pep Guardiola. “With this competition, the treble is so difficult.”
City not only won their first European trophy since claiming the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970, they also became only the second English team to win a treble of Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League, matching Manchester United’s sweep in 1999 when City were in the third tier.
Inter, bidding to lift the trophy for a fourth time, stifled Guardiola’s side with a superbly executed display of traditional Italian catenaccio, especially in the first half in which City’s Kevin De Bruyne went off injured.
City may have experienced a horrible sense of deja vu as chief playmaker De Bruyne also failed to finish the final two years ago when City fell short against Chelsea.
Even City’s Norwegian goal-machine Erling Haaland found himself shackled, but in the end Spanish midfielder Rodri, starting his 52nd game of the season, came to the rescue.
“Emotional. A dream come true. All these guys around here waited I don’t know how many years. They deserve, we deserve,” Rodri told BT Sport as Guardiola hugged his players and City’s fans sang the name of Sheikh Mansour, whose takeover of the club in 2008 has turned City into serial trophy winners.
“It wasn’t easy. What a team we faced, the way they defend and counter-attack. Finals are like this. Emotions and nerves are there. We competed like animals.”
City have now won 17 trophies since the 2008 takeover, although there is a cloud on the horizon with the club faced with more than 100 charges of alleged breaches of Premier League financial regulations dating back to 2009.
On Saturday alongside the Bosphorous, that was the last thing City’s joyous fans cared about as they serenaded their side with club anthem Blue Moon a collection of hits by Oasis, whose brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher are staunch City fans.
In finally guiding City to the European Holy Grail after gut-wrenching near misses, Guardiola became the first manager to achieve two trebles in European football, having done the Spanish equivalent with Barcelona in 2009.
He has delivered 12 major trophies for City since 2016 and, with the Champions League jinx broken, any sense of inferiority they may have felt to established European royalty like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool has been swept away.
“We want more,” Rodri warned.
Guardiola’s side fluffed their lines in Porto two years ago against Chelsea. This time he and his players delivered, although it was never going to be straightforward.
Simone Inzaghi’s side disrupted City’s rhythm in the first half with their back three of Matteo Darmian, Francesco Acerbi, Alessandro Bastoni superb behind a tireless midfield guard.
Haaland had an effort superbly saved by Andre Onana, but Guardiola fretted on the touchline – even more so when De Bruyne was forced off in the 36th minute.
City were sloppy at times with passes going astray, one of which by Manuel Akanji playing in Lautaro Martinez who selfishly failed to pick out substitute Romelu Lukaku.
Inter’s fans grew increasingly vocal as City’s were silently consumed by nerves but all that changed when Bernardo Silva found space in the blue and black wall and he cut a pass back to Rodri who took a touch and drilled the ball home.
To their credit, Inter mustered one final effort and came agonizingly close to an equalizer when Federico Dimarco looped a header against the bar with Ederson beaten and his follow-up header hit Lukaku, who had replaced Edin Dzeko.
Lukaku went even closer when his point-blank header was somehow kept out by Ederson’s shin and the Brazilian made another save from Francesco Acerbi.
It was City’s night, and the celebrations will be long and loud, while for Inter there was no repeat of their surprise 2010 win over Bayern Munich.
It marked a hat-trick of defeats for Italian clubs in European club finals this season with Roma losing to Sevilla in the Europa League and Fiorentina beaten by West Ham United in the Europa Conference. – Rappler.com