Champions of Europe!

Manchester City have finally managed to taste European glory after trumping Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Almost two decades ago, a historic miracle took shape at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. Two European heavyweights in the English side Liverpool and the Italian side A.C. Milan faced each other in the UEFA Champions League final, the premier competition of club soccer, each vying for the chance to lift the coveted European Cup and attain the title of the best team in Europe. The Italians were the first to draw blood with an early header goal from legendary defender Paulo Maldini, and before long A.C. Milan found themselves with a 3-0 lead before half-time. But Liverpool did not back down and after an inspirational goal from iconic captain Steven Gerrard, the English team scored two more and equalized the game 3-3 to take it to a penalty shootout. Then, when Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek saved Milan striker Shevchenko’s decisive shot, Liverpool completed the comeback and won their fifth Champions League in a game that fans would forever remember as the “Miracle of Istanbul.” 

Now nearly twenty years later on June 10, 2023, Istanbul gave the soccer world another famous Champions League moment. After conquering their respective knockout games, English side Manchester City and Italian side Inter Milan had to battle each other in the last match of the competition to obtain European glory. Inter Milan were considered the underdogs of the battle, but the Italians had history on their side, as they are three-time Champions League winners. Meanwhile, Manchester City were heavy favorites in the matchup due to their immensely talented roster. However, the “Cityzens,” as they are known by fans, have had a habit of capitulating in big games during European competitions and were still chasing their first-ever Champions League title. Thus, fans worldwide were expecting an interesting game where history could potentially be made. The product certainly delivered.

Right from the start, the usually defensive Inter Milan played with an attacking urgency and, surprisingly, controlled the game’s pace for the first portion of the game by distributing the ball well and pressing City relentlessly off the attack. The press seemed to work too, as the Cityzens looked spooked by the newfound aggressiveness of their opponents and made some reckless decisions that almost conceded a goal. However, as the game progressed, Manchester City grew into the game and established their possession-based system. The Mancunians even got a chance at goal when striker Erling Haaland thundered a shot that was parried away by the leg of Inter goalkeeper André Onana. But the Citizens would suffer a big setback when Kevin de Bruyne, their attacking midfielder and arguably best player, suffered an injury late in the first half that would sideline him for the rest of the game. During the second half, Inter, likely boosted by the removal of de Bruyne, began hounding their opponents again. It almost paid off when striker Lautaro Martinez caught City goalkeeper Ederson at the edge of the box, but his shot could only bounce off the leg of the spread-out keeper. Things continued to be tight as City tried to break down the defensive lines of Inter but the Cityzens would eventually get their way as a cut-back pass from Bernardo Silva in the 68th minute would find his teammate Rodri, who bent a shot past two Inter defenders and into the goal to give City the lead. Inter would have crucial chances later on to equalize, including a header from striker Romelu Lukaku that was saved by Ederson’s knee. But, try as they might, the Italian side could not convert. When Polish referee Szymon Marciniak blew the final whistle, the City fans were jumping with joy as they witnessed captain İlkay Gündoğan lift the club’s first European Cup.

Though Manchester City received most of the plaudits, Inter Milan certainly did themselves proud in the final. Almost nobody could have predicted that the Nerazzurri would even make it this far, yet they have deserved their place in this prestigious game. They faced every match in the tournament with a ferocious tenacity, and if it was not for some lackluster finishing displayed by their strikers, they could have seized their fourth Champions League title. Furthermore, the presence of Inter in the Champions League final was a sign of the re-emergence of Italian soccer on the European stage. Aside from S.S.C. Napoli’s unexpected triumph in its domestic league, Italian soccer also witnessed two other of their representatives—A.S. Roma and Fiorentina—become finalists in the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Conference League. Though Roma and Fiorentina would also lose these European finals just like their Inter counterparts, it did offer a glimpse into a potential rebirth of one of soccer’s most successful countries. 

That said, much significance can also be found in Manchester City’s victory. With their newfound European success, the Cityzens have officially removed themselves from their streak of Champions League capitulations, where they would clearly be the better team on paper but would always find a way to lose. More importantly, with their victories in the Premier League and FA Cup, City have also written themselves into the history books as only the second English club to ever win the big treble—Champions League, FA Cup, and Premier League—thus matching the feat of their city rivals Manchester United in 1999. Individually, striker Erling Haaland would be looking at this accomplishment with glee as, along with his record of scoring 52 goals in 52 appearances, it would propel his campaign for the 2023 Ballon d’Or to cap off a stupendous debut season with City. 

Then there is the case of City’s head coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola who has managed to prove all of his doubters wrong by winning the Champions League without legendary player Lionel Messi. In fact, it could be argued that it was down to his own tactical genius that gave his side the edge over Inter, as his employment of the 3-2-4-1 formation allowed Rodri to roam freely behind his attacking teammates and score the crucial goal that crowned Manchester City the champions of Europe.