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Off night for Lukaku as Inter fall at final hurdle
Romelu Lukaku was supposed to be Inter Milan's secret weapon in the Champions League final but instead he had an awful night which stopped Inter from upsetting the odds and beating Manchester City.
The Belgium striker was always likely to start on the bench as Edin Dzeko's link play is what stitches together Inter's attacks and helps the Italians relieve opposition pressure.
However the 30-year-old's recent explosive form had fans hoping that he might have an impact as a substitute as City's legs tired, seven goals and five assists since late April enough to hint at a rebirth months after his disastrous World Cup.
But Dzeko's exit allowed City to push Inter back as the Bosnian was no longer there to hold up clearances and Lukaku struggled to hold on to the ball and bring others into play.
Worse, his goalscoring touch also deserted him just as Inter pushed for what would have probably been a deserved equaliser, and he even added a tragicomedy touch for good measure.
Seconds after Rodri stroked City into a 68th minute lead Federico Dimarco's looping header bounced out to the Italy full-back off the crossbar.
But just as boyhood Inter fan Dimarco looked certain to head the Serie A club level Lukaku got in the way and kept his teammate's effort out.
And with the match inching towards stoppage time Lukaku was presented with the opportunity to remind everyone why Chelsea paid a club-record fee to take him from then-Italian champions Inter two years ago.
Robin Gosens directed an inviting header across goal which left Lukaku just needing to guide his close-range header past Ederson, who had the good fortune to have the ball bounce out off his knee.
"Sometimes the ball goes in sometimes it doesn't," strike partner Lautaro Martinez told reporters.
"Not even their goalkeeper knows how he saved Romelu's header... We put them in difficulty, we had the chances but we couldn't put them away and that's why they won."
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It was also an off-night for Argentina forward Martinez, the most in-form player coming into the final with a team which had won 11 of their last 12 matches.
But before Rodri opened the scoring he failed to find a way past Ederson when he could have just as easily slid the ball across to the onrushing Lukaku.
Despite the missed chances Inter acquitted themselves far better than many pre-match predictions suggested they would, or even could against a mega-rich City team stacked with world-class players.
Simone Inzaghi's aide surpassed expectations getting out of a group which contained Barcelona and Bayern Munich and even though their league campaign was very up-and-down, Inter saved their best for Europe.
The Italian has taken a club with serious financial problems to the brink of Champions League glory and was proud of his players for giving City such a good game.
"I congratulated the boys for their performance, they were brilliant," Inzaghi told Sky in Italy.
"It's difficult, we've lost a final that we wanted to win at any cost but we have to be proud of ourselves.
"Yesterday I said that I wouldn't change this group of players with anyone and today you all saw why. The whole world saw Inter put in a serious performance out there."