City primed to end drought but Stoke no pushovers
LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City fans have suffered more than most but victory in Saturday's FA Cup final against Stoke City would spark the second set of celebrations in a week as the club's massive investment begins to pay off.
Dubbed the world's richest club after being taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in 2008, City have spent more than 300 million pounds building a team but trophies did not arrive immediately.
Supporters may have expected a Premier League title challenge given the amount of money splashed on the likes of Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko but on Tuesday they could at least cheer their side to a Champions League playoff spot.
Securing fourth spot in the Premier League by beating Tottenham Hotspur was probably a more important achievement in the long-run, especially for the money men, but the club actually lifting silverware would be special for the fans.
Their somewhat sombre sounding club song "Blue Moon" was drifting its way across modest third division grounds just over 10 years ago as one of English football's sleeping giants plumbed new depths before re-awakening with a bang.
City, who won their fourth and most recent FA Cup in 1969, surged back towards the top flight but it was only with the Abu Dhabi investment that fans began to dream of rivalling city neighbours Manchester United in the Premier League and Europe.
The blue half of the city are not quite there yet but beating United in the semi-final was a sweet moment for a club so long in the shadow of the Old Trafford powerhouse who could rather steal City's thunder by capturing a record 19th league title just before kickoff at Wembley.
City manager Roberto Mancini is battling to stop the huge expectation which surrounds the club from affecting his players ahead of the Wembley showdown with in-form Stoke.
"It will not be easy to prepare for the final. We used up a lot of energy against Tottenham," he told reporters.
"Saturday will be a very, very hard game. Stoke are a difficult team and it is important that we recover very well. If we think it will be an easy game, that will be a big mistake. If we concentrate, maybe we can win."
City were boosted by top striker Carlos Tevez coming on as a substitute against Spurs after recovering from a hamstring tear but he is unlikely to play the whole game on Saturday.
Stoke, in their first FA Cup final despite being the second oldest professional English club, also have injury worries with winger Matthew Etherington and defender Robert Huth set to have late fitness tests.
Tony Pulis's side, who like City boast some of English soccer's most vociferous supporters, are an impressive eighth in the Premier League despite limited funds and overwhelmed Arsenal 3-1 on Sunday with the coach managing to keep his team's mind off the final.
Their 5-0 thrashing of Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final, also played at Wembley, suggested there will be no big game nerves.
The pressure has also been slightly lifted by City securing fourth spot, which means Stoke are guaranteed a Europa League place whether they win or lose on Saturday.
"It may be the greatest day in the club's history next weekend," Pulis said.
"We were written off as relegation certainties when we came into the Premier League (2008) but we've gradually got better and better."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)
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