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CL final: Haaland and Martinez hold keys to victory for City, Inter

Published:Saturday | June 10, 2023 | 1:13 AM
Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez
Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez
Manchester City's Erling Haaland
Manchester City's Erling Haaland

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP):

While Erling Haaland is feeling the weight of expectations ahead of Saturday’s Champions League (CL) final, Lautaro Martinez is aiming to complete a spectacular double, six months after winning the World Cup with Argentina.

They are the players who could make the difference when Manchester City face Inter Milan at Istanbul’s Ataturk Olimpiyat Stadium.

“Of course I feel pressure,” said Haaland, the prolific City striker. “I would lie if I said I didn’t. You say it yourself and it’s true — they (City) won the English Premier League without me, they won every trophy without me. So I’m here to try to do a thing that the club has never done before and I’ll do my best.”

Haaland’s frank admission is a measure of what is at stake in European club football's biggest game.

He has appeared to have ice in his veins in his first season at City in which he has scored 52 goals, won two trophies and is now on the brink of leading the club to its first Champions League title.

The prospect of conquering Europe, however, has been playing on his mind as the final approaches.

Martinez may not be as celebrated as Haaland, but he is one of Inter’s few stars in a team that features a number of veteran players and are an unlikely finalists.

The Italian club is in its first final since winning the competition in 2010 under Jose Mourinho, having done little in the Champions League in the intervening years.

In Martinez, they have a player who lifted football's biggest prize when Argentina won the World Cup in Qatar in December.

“I think these are the two major finals a footballer can play. The only thing that changes is the shirt,” he said Friday. “You know you’ve made it to the very end thanks to all the work you’ve done and how hard you’ve worked throughout the year. If you want to really achieve that goal, the very last step you must be ready to take.”

Should Inter upset the odds and win the Champions League, Martinez would emulate another Argentine striker, Diego Militao, who was part of that team from 2010.

“I do feel responsibility. I have been at Inter for five years. We are all ready for the final,” he added. “You have got to have the will to win and lift that trophy. We’ve brought that spirit that has been missing for a while. We have the opportunity to win a trophy that has been missing for several years.”

Haaland represents the biggest threat to Inter after establishing himself as probably the most lethal striker in the world this season.

His 36 Premier League goals have set a new benchmark in England’s top division.

He became the fastest and youngest player to reach 30 Champions League goals and equalled Lionel Messi and Luiz Adriano’s feat of scoring five times in one match in the competition.

Then there have been the trophies — winning the league title and FA Cup to leave City one game away from a treble that would emulate Manchester United’s achievement in 1999.

Inter may be the underdogs but they are looking to win their fourth European Cup.

“We are certainly hoping to take the trophy back to Milan,” Martinez said. “In terms of whether it is a duty or dream, it is certainly a huge dream, but it is very difficult to fulfil. We worked so hard to get to this point and are one step away.”

Inter’s coach Simone Inzaghi accepts City go into the match as the favourites, describing them as “probably the best team in the world.”

But the message to his players is that they are worthy finalists.

City advanced to the final in 2021, only to be shocked by a Chelsea team that they finished 19 points ahead of that season in the league.

They looked on course to reach last year’s final, but conceded two goals in stoppage time against Real Madrid before going out through extra time.

This year, City’s route to Istanbul has been serene, despite being drawn against Bayern Munich and Madrid in the knockout rounds.

Two of Europe’s giants were swept aside in ruthless fashion, with Madrid beaten 4-0 in the second leg of the semifinals at Etihad Stadium.