The Italians, surprise finalists, advance towards the Atatürk Olympic Stadium (72,000 seats) with above them the imposing shadow of the Sky Blues, great favorites with their attacking giant, their successful coach and their wealthy Emirati owner.

In football as in fairy tales, however, sometimes the Little Thumb triumphs. Manchester City know history and do not intend to repeat the same mistakes as in their first and last final, lost to Chelsea in 2021.

"I don't control what people think, I just focus on what we have to do," Guardiola said. But historically, with his three European titles (1964, 1965, 2010), "Inter is bigger than us," launched the Catalan, crowned in 2009 and 2011 on the bench of FC Barcelona.

Presentation of the 2022-20223 Champions League final between Manchester City and Inter Milan © Vincent LEFAI, Valentina BRESCHI / AFP

Time becomes long for him as for Sheikh Mansour, member of the Emirati royal family and buyer of the club in 2008. His Abu Dhabi United Group controls the winner of seven of the last twelve Premier League, world champions of revenue (731M EUR last season according to Deloitte), but he is still waiting to become the first owner-state to lift the Cup with big ears.

It still belongs for a few hours to Real Madrid, the defending champions, which Manchester City methodically crushed in the semi-final return (4-0) at the Etihad Stadium.

Quest for a hat-trick

Three weeks after this collective masterpiece, defender or midfielder John Stones is wary of the label of favorites that sticks to their skin.

Manchester City's Norwegian striker Erling Haaland kisses the FA Cup trophy after the Citizens' final win over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London on June 3, 2023 © Adrian DENNIS/AFP

In the FA Cup, for example, "there are killers of giants, small teams in the third or fourth division that beat champions of the Premier League or others, and this is where the humility, the respect that each team deserves, and the quality of the players it has, manifests".

The Citizens have so far achieved a flawless performance this season, beating Arsenal to the post in the league and snatching the FA Cup under Manchester United's nose and beard. They are now aiming for the "Treble" that the Red Devils, their neighbours and rivals, achieved in 1999.

They have a formidable ace up their sleeve with Erling Haaland, the scarecrow of defences with his 52 goals scored since his arrival last summer from Dortmund.

Alessandro Bastoni, one of the three central defenders in charge of monitoring the Norwegian giant (1.94m), ensures not to tremble. "We are afraid of murderers, not footballers. It would be a mistake to talk about fear."

Inter "deserve" their final

The Nerazzurri, third in Serie A, are also not without offensive triggers with Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku to accompany the Argentine "Toro" Lautaro Martinez, fresh world champion. They also have dangerous full-backs, a midfield with strong pressing and direct forward play.

The Lombard club pulled out of a "very difficult, with Barça and Bayern" group, then kept their nerves strong in the derby of the semis (wins 2-0 then 1-0) against AC Milan, so "we deserved to be there", summarized Martinez Friday in a press conference room filled to the brim.

Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana in training on June 9, 2023 at Istanbul's © Atatürk Stadium FRANCK FIFE / AFP

"We are a big club and we have a lot of expectations. When Inter find themselves in the final, they have to win. If you look at it that way, we're not the underdog because history speaks for us. We are all great players, we know how to play the finals," Onana said this week.

The Cameroonian goalkeeper dreams out loud before entering the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, famous for Liverpool's legendary 2005 final on penalties, after being led 3-0 at half-time by AC Milan. The Reds have shown the way, Inter also want their "Istanbul miracle".

© 2023 AFP