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Soccer-City poised to match Utd’s treble, but drama of 1999 will stand alone

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By Martyn Herman

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Manchester City will emulate Manchester United’s 1999 treble if they beat Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final but it would take something truly extraordinary to match the spine-tingling way Alex Ferguson’s side made history 24 years ago.

In fact, should pre-match predictions of a comfortable City win play out against Inter, Pep Guardiola’s side’s treble would look almost like a walk in the park compared to the white-knuckle ride endured by United in 1999.

City relentlessly reeled in Arsenal to comfortably win a fifth Premier League title in six seasons under Spaniard Guardiola and last week beat United 2-1 in the FA Cup final evidently with something to spare.

Inter are likely to provide stubborn opposition as City seek to win the one cup to elude them since Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2008 and transformed their fortunes with 16 major trophies deposited in the cabinet since.

City will likely have to dig deep to subdue the Serie A side bidding for a fourth European crown, but probably not quite as deep as United were forced to go in the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich when their treble looked doomed.

United had already used up several lives to keep their Premier League/FA Cup/Champions League treble, still the only one achieved by an English club, on the rails.

They almost lost in the FA Cup semi-final replay to Arsenal at Villa Park but were spared as Peter Schmeichel saved Dennis Bergkamp’s penalty at the end of normal time.

United, who had skipper Roy Keane sent off, then snatched victory with a sensational Ryan Giggs solo goal the Welsh wizard celebrated in unforgettably eye-bulging fashion, ripping off his shirt and whirling it over his head.

United’s Premier League title that year also looked unlikely with Arsenal favourites to retain the crown until losing to Leeds United in the penultimate game of the season.

Even then there was a massive scare on the final day as United went a goal behind in a must-win game at home to Tottenham Hotspur before hitting back to win 2-1.

Unlike City, who dismissed Bayern Munich and Real Madrid with nonchalant ease en route to the Champions League final, United looked down and out against Juventus in the semi-finals.

Ferguson’s side drew 1-1 at Old Trafford and then trailed 2-0 in the second leg in Turin as Filippo Inzaghi struck twice in the opening 11 minutes. An inspirational Keane headed United back into contention and Dwight Yorke levelled the tie before Andy Cole’s late goal sealed United’s date with destiny.

Ferguson’s side avoided such drama in the FA Cup final against Newcastle United with a routine 2-0 win.

And so they marched to the Nou Camp aiming to end a 30-year wait to reclaim Europe’s biggest club prize.

The build-up was intense but United fell flat as Bayern, chasing their own treble, dominated and would have led by more than Mario Basler’s early free-kick had it not been for twice hitting the woodwork.

As the final drifted into stoppage time United looked spent, before one of the most astonishing climaxes to a Champions League final. First, substitute Teddy Sheringham swept in a weak Giggs shot with keeper Oliver Kahn claiming offside.

And two minutes later and with virtually the last kick of the game, David Beckham’s corner was flicked on by Sheringham and fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked out a right foot to prod a volley into the net, sparking pandemonium in the stadium and cartwheels of joy by Schmeichel.

For the sake of their blood pressure, City’s fans will be hoping for something a little less tortuous on Saturday.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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