Manchester City Wins First Champions League Title

Manchester City had already won the Premier League and the F.A. Cup this season. Now it is the champion of Europe, too. The one prize that had eluded it for so long, the one that both the club’s benefactors and its coach, Pep Guardiola, craved more than any other, was finally seized with a 1-0 victory over Inter Milan.

Perhaps, given the scale of investment — and the ongoing suggestion that City might not have played by quite the same rules as everyone else — that was inevitable. The odds were that this would happen sooner or later. But that it should happen so that City could win the treble, making it only the second English club to achieve that feat, was the perfect gift-wrapping.

In the years to come, of course, the manner in which it was achieved will be all but forgotten. It would have slipped from City’s minds almost as soon as the whistle blew and its players erupted in joy, a great roar washing down from the massed ranks of its fans. It was, certainly, not a memorable final, or — by City’s own exalted standards — a noteworthy performance.

But it was entirely appropriate. Inter Milan had arrived in Istanbul expected to be little more than a sacrificial lamb, swatted aside casually by a City team that seemed, in every conceivable way, to be its superior.

City has won the Premier League in five of the last six years. Inter is the third-best team in Italy. City possesses Erling Haaland, a striker who seems to have been sent from the future. Inter’s team is old, even by the gerontocratic standards of Serie A. This final was, in most reckonings, a mismatch, a procession, a fait accompli.

It did not work out like that. Inter drew deep from its well of experience to frustrate City in every conceivable way. It dawdled over free kicks. It lingered in possession. It indulged in petty, niggling fouls, robbing the game of its rhythm. Francesco Acerbi, a richly bearded central defender, pushed and pulled Haaland as soon as the ball was in his orbit.

What the Italian side might have lacked in star power, in systemic sophistication, it more than made up for in grit and grizzle, in gnarl and nous. Those are all virtues in soccer, of course, the building blocks of all great teams.

Ultimately, though, it was not enough. In a single moment, Inter’s resistance broke, and with it the last bulwark of European soccer’s traditional aristocracy, its grand old houses. Manchester City, as it was always going to, has broken down the door. In the middle of its celebrations, one day ended, and another began.

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