ISTANBUL (AP) — Kevin De Bruyne’s Champions League final came to an early end — again.
This time, though, it did not matter.
On Saturday, unlike in the 2021 final, Manchester City got the job done without their inspirational playmaker to become European champion for the first time.
Man City beat Inter Milan 1-0 while De Bruyne watched from the bench after going off injured in the 36th minute when the game was goalless.
De Bruyne’s right thigh was heavily strapped because of a hamstring injury, and he said after the game that it’s an issue he’s been struggling with for a while.
“It’s been a hard two months for me, I’ve had a lot of issues with my hamstring,” De Bruyne told broadcaster BT Sport. “It snapped.”
That didn’t stop him leaping off the bench to run and celebrate when Rodri carefully placed his shot from 15 yards (meters) into the Inter goal in the 68th minute.
And it certainly didn’t stop De Bruyne running off the bench again onto the field when the final whistle blew after more than six minutes of tense stoppage time. Or from jumping up and down as captain Ilkay Gundogan raised the trophy in celebration.
The win meant Man City claimed a kind of European soccer immortality by becoming just the second English team to seal a treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League titles in the same season.
A treble that likely could not have been achieved without De Bruyne, even if the final step was taken without him in action.
When De Bruyne had to be substituted in the first half against Inter, it was the second time in three seasons the Belgian star had to come off early in the biggest club game in soccer. He was replaced by Phil Foden.
Two years ago, he lasted an hour before he sustained a serious facial injury in a final that Man City lost 1-0 to Chelsea.
Then, De Bruyne suffered a fractured nose and an orbital fracture to his left eye socket in a collision with the shoulder of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.
De Bruyne was in tears when he left the field in Porto. This time in Istanbul he walked quickly off the field to take his place in the team dugout.
“It’s a shame because I felt really good in the first half an hour, and I felt I was doing well,” De Bruyne said. “But you know, the team is good enough, and we won. So that’s it.”
There was little hint of the problem when De Bruyne had a right-foot shot on the Inter Milan goal, his first of the game, which was easily saved. Soon, in the 30th minute, he was sitting on the ground in distress.
There was a hush around the Atatürk Olympic Stadium as the 72,000 spectators waited for the outcome of a brief medical assessment. De Bruyne continued playing for four more minutes until signaling to the Man City bench that he had to stop.
Man City’s star forward Erling Haaland comforted his teammate with a consoling left arm around the shoulder. Earlier, De Bruyne’s perfectly angled and weighted pass had sent Haaland into space in the penalty area for a powerful left-foot shot that Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana blocked with his left arm.
As De Bruyne walked toward the touchline, Man City coach Pep Guardiola came on to the pitch to greet his player. Guardiola patted the dejected De Bruyne’s lowered head.
De Bruyne, who turns 32 later this month, placed third in voting for the Ballon d’Or award for 2022, awarded in October to Karim Benzema with Sadio Mané in second place. It was his highest individual international honor.
He also had never won a European title in club soccer or for Belgium. Until Man City did it Saturday.