When Inter Milan line up for their first ‘dream’ Champions League final in 13 years, they will expect to do so as significant underdogs.
After completing a 3-0 aggregate win over fierce rivals AC MilanInter vice-president Javier Zanetti was quick to say he preferred to avoid 14-time world champions Real.
“I would like to avoid Real Madrid because the competition seems made for them,” said former captain Zanetti.
But regardless of what happens in the final, football journalist Guillem Balague says it’s “a miracle” that three-time winners Inter have made it this far.
The Nerazzurri finished second to Bayern Munich in a group that also included Barcelona, before beating Portuguese clubs Porto and Benfica to win the first Milan derby in European competition for 20 years.
“In the next few days we will realize what we have done,” said coach Simone Inzaghi.
“For us it was a dream but we always believed in it.
“It was an extraordinary journey and winning a derby in the semi-finals like this brings great satisfaction.
“Madrid and City are two of the best teams in Europe.”
World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez, who scored the only goal of Tuesday’s second leg to start celebrations among Inter fans, echoed his manager’s sentiments.
“It’s an incredible joy, I’m delighted. I thank my family. This sport is the most beautiful thing in the world,” Martinez said.
“Playing in the Champions League final is a dream.”
“Manchester City or Real Madrid will be the big favourites”
Inter’s last Champions League triumph came in their last final in 2010, when Jose Mourinho orchestrated victory over favorites Bayern Munich.
They will need a surprise of perhaps greater magnitude to overcome Real Madrid or Manchester City – tied 1-1 after the first leg in Spain.
“Real or City would be big favourites, but Inter are a well-balanced side,” Owen Hargreaves, a Champions League winner with Manchester United, told BT Sport.
“They’re going to come up against a great team,” he added. “But they will want to finish the job now. They will be a problem in the final for whoever they play.”
Inter have failed to compete for the Serie A title this season and are 17 points behind fearsome champions Napoli.
But the Coppa Italia runners-up have thrived in cup competitions, and in Europe Inzaghi’s organized side have kept eight clean sheets at the top of the competition.
“In important moments, Inter have always succeeded,” European football expert Mina Rzouki said live on BBC Radio 5.
“I know people think whoever wins the other game will beat this Inter team, but I wouldn’t be so confident.”
Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who won the trophy in 2005, told BT Sport: “They have a chance, they deserve that chance.
“They’re hard to beat, they carry a threat. Whoever they face, they scream.”
Although keen not to face serial winners Real, Zanetti, part of Inter’s Champions League-winning side in 2010, did not lose sight of what the club had achieved.
“It’s a great emotion. The group deserved to play in a Champions League final after 13 years,” Zanetti told Sky Italia.
“We are waiting to know the names of our opponents, but what this group has done is very important.
“The most important thing is to get there; it was a difficult path.”