The last time a team began a Champions League final as unfancied as Inter Milan, we were also in Istanbul.
Eighteen years ago, Liverpool played AC Milan here having not even finished in the top four of the Premier League — and we all know what happened.
For Inter, Italy’s third-best team, the scale of the task against Manchester City is clear.
Some bookmakers are offering odds as generous as 4-1, which is quite something in a two-horse race. But just as Liverpool triumphed in the Ataturk Stadium in 2005, so Inter have travelled here in hope this time.
‘This is a huge opportunity for us to rewrite history,’ said coach Simone Inzaghi. ‘We know how difficult it’s going to be. You say we are underrated and it’s an important point. We have played 56 matches this season and this will be the 57th. We have had difficult moments, injuries and defeats. But we stayed together and showed heart and commitment. That commitment has got us here to Istanbul.’
Inter’s road to Turkey was not as serene as City’s. They lost home and away in their group against Bayern Munich and were presented with the easier side of the knockout draw, beating Porto and Benfica to reach their epic semi-final with Milan at the San Siro.
‘The two games in the semi-final really embodied what we are,’ said Inzaghi, manager at Inter for two years. ‘We have never felt alone all this season and we must win this now for our fans.
‘I am at the helm of a group of real men. I would not change them for anybody else. They have given me so much joy. We will rely on our fitness, our legs and our hearts. Our approach will be crucial. We must put all our hearts into this game.’
Inter trained here last night in relatively mild early summer temperatures after briefly getting stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium. Better to have that hiccup on the eve of the game than on match day.
In terms of their tactics, Inzaghi said last night that his team would attempt to press City when possible high up the field. In terms of matters in their own half, City striker Erling Haaland presents the most obvious threat.
‘Yes, we have a special idea for him,’ said Inzaghi. ‘We have set up something. We have prepared something.
‘The whole team will have to handle not only Erling Haaland but the whole of the City team. But we can do it.’
Inter have their own history in this competition, even if their three triumphs pale when set next to their neighbours’ seven. It is three more than City, though, and the pressure felt by an English team desperate to enter new territory and also clinch a Treble this evening may yet be the Italians’ greatest weapon.
There is no expectation on Inzaghi and his players. This is, to some extent, a free hit. ‘We are calm and we are ready,’ said the Inter boss.