On an emotional night in Istanbul, Manchester City were finally crowned the Champions of Europe for the first time in their history. Rodri’s goal in the 68th minute was enough for the blues to take the crown and send their fans on a rollercoaster of emotion, culminating in a mixture of tears and cheers.
After crushing all in their path on the way to the final, Inter Milan remained the only barrier between City and the greatest prize in European football. And, in what felt like a European version of the 2011 FA Cup Final, blues fans were on tenterhooks throughout, both before and after Rodri’s goal that settled the tie.
Manager Pep Guardiola made a surprising decision to leave Kyle Walker on the bench, preferring a back line of Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji to play alongside John Stones and Ruben Dias. It was probably the most difficult decision for the manager, given Walker’s experience, but on this occasion, he was proved right.
City’s back line held firm against an Inter side who, had scored 19 goals and conceded just 10 throughout their Champions League campaign. The Italian side had also conceded just three from their six knock-out matches, all of which came in the same game during a 3-3 draw with Benfica.
But the blues were equally as potent up front, but it ultimately came down to one goal that would separate the two.
Both teams had their chances and, in fairness, City rode their luck in the second half, relying upon the strength and resourcefulness of Ederson to, at one stage, keep the score at 0-0, then prevent Inter from equalising once City had their noses in front. The Brazilian has come under fire from some quarters this season, but on a humid night in Turkey, the often eccentric keeper earned his spurs.
The first half offered very little. Bernardo Silva firing over the bar and Erling Haaland having a shot saved by the Onana was about as exciting as it got. Inter’s tactics were to surround the City player with the ball, often putting two players to pressurise and try to win back possession and for a while, it stifled City’s usual game.
Inter will have been pleased with their first-half performance and will have viewed it as a job half done. Now, all they had to do was score from a break that would surely come as the blues piled more pressure on the Italian side.
And it so nearly came to fruition.
Akanji inexplicably decided to leave a pass by Jack Grealish ball for Ederson to collect, but the City keeper was never going to reach it. Martinez raced onto the loose ball, but the keeper made himself into a barrier that the Argentine couldn’t find a way past. It was Inter’s best chance of the match so far, which sparked memories of the chance Stoke City had in the 2011 cup final, when Joe Hart made a similar block to keep the score level.
City turned up the heat and began to exert authority on the Inter defence, and the goal that the faithful had been dreaming of finally arrived in the 68th minute.
For once, the Inter defence lost track of Bernardo, who was played through brilliantly by Akanji. His cross was deflected out, but only as far as Rodri, whose first-time strike found the back of the goal.
The sky blue end of the Ataturk Stadium erupted as Rodri was mobbed by his teammates. It was City’s first goal in a Champions League final and the blues were 22 minutes way from being crowned the kings of Europe.
They always say a team is most vulnerable after a goal and that was almost the case on Saturday night. City lost sight of the ball for a moment and Di Marco flicked a header over the desperate dive of Ederson, only to see it bounce off the bar. As City struggled to get the ball away, Di Marco had another bite, heading low into the ground, only for it to hit Romelu Lukaku and City cleared.
The former Chelsea, Everton and United man had replaced former blue Edin Dzeko, and he had gained a reputation in England for his mysterious disappearances during big matches. That was again evident in Turkey as Lukaku became more of a hindrance than a help to the Inter cause.
City had a glorious chance to wrap the game up on 76 minutes when a moment of brilliance by Phil Foden got him past the Inter defence. However, his shot was saved by the keeper, denying the City man what would have been a perfect way to seal victory.
Lukaku had a chance for Inter with three minutes to go but, instead of finding the back of the goal, managed to guide his header onto the knee of Ederson, with the City keeper barely aware of the amazing stop.
Five minutes of injury time was added and Inter almost forced extra time at the death. A corner on the right was flicked towards goal, but once more, Ederson was there to deny any chance of a goal.
That proved to be the last moment of the match and, as the whistle went, the City players invaded the pitch in celebration. Manchester City were finally crowned Champions of Europe.
Final Score: Manchester City, European Champions 1-0 Inter Milan