The story of the 1966 World Cup in England was all about the home teams first ever triumph and the famous final that was full of controversy and iconic commentary. But undoubtedly the player of the tournament was Portuguese legend, Eusebio who sadly passed away this past weekend. Eusebio da Silva Ferreira scored nine goals during the 1966 World Cup, driving Portugal to a third place finish, narrowly missing out on a spot in the final after a 2-1 defeat to eventually winners England. For the 24 year old, it would be his defining moment for the Portuguese national team and would act as catalyst that would lead to Eusebio becoming a legend in the game. To be mentioned in the same group as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Puskas and Di Stefano shows how great Eusebio was as a player.
Most of his success came during his 15 spell with Benfica where he scored 317 goals in 302 games, guiding them to what they now refer to as their Golden era. During this time Benfica and Eusebio secured 10 Primeira Liga titles, 5 Portuguese Cups and two consecutive European Champions Cups in 1961 and 1962. The latter was even more remarkable considering Real Madrid dominated the tournament during the late 50’s and early 60’s with Puskas and Di Stefanio terrifying teams across Europe during this time. But in the 1962 Final, when Benfica met Real Madrid in the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam, it was Eusebio’s performance that got everyone talking. In a thrilling encounter that finished 5-3 to Benfica and saw Hungarian legend Fernec Puskas hit a first half hat trick, Eusebio would prove to be unstoppable inspiring the Benfica comeback before sealing the victory with two goals late on in the second half, the first from the penalty spot after he has hacked down in the box by Luis del Sol and the second a fine strike from a laid off free kick just outside the 18 yard box.
Born in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), Eusebio spent a majority of his childhood with a ball at his feet, often skipping school to go and play. Growing up in poverty, Eusebio learned how to play the game with bare feet, kicking around a ball made from old socks and newspapers, dreaming of one day moving to his favourite team, Benfica. After joining one of their feeder teams he eventually moved to Benfica in 1960, despite interest from Juventus in Italy and Sao Paulo in Brazil, as a young 18 year old. He made his first team debut the following season and never looked back. Now European champions, Benfica had a talented squad already before Eusebio came into the picture but it wasn’t long before manager Béla Guttmann realized the potential star in the making that he had. Eusebio quickly established himself as an irreplaceable member of the first team and went on to become a club legend. After 15 years at the club and now aged 33, he left Benfica and played for a variety of clubs including NASL clubs Boston Minutemen, Toronto Metros –Croatia and Las Vegs Quicksilver, winning the 1976 NASL title with Toronto. Spells at Monterrey, Beira Mar, Uniao de Tomas and New Jersey Americans followed before he retired at aged 37 in 1979.
As a permanent fixture of the Portuguese national team during the 60’s and early 70’s, Eusebio won 64 caps scoring a then record 41 goals that he held until 2004 when Pauleta and then Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him. Still considered the best Portuguese player of all time, Eusebio’s legacy will live on for years to come. His death on Sunday aged 71 came after a long battle with heart and respiratory problems but still was a shock to many in his homeland. Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for the player, with his funeral taking place yesterday in the capital Lisbon. Thousand turned out to pay their own personal tributes to the player affectionately known as the Black Panther, with his coffin draped in a Benfica flag. Fellow Portuguese footballers led the tribute to Eusebio with Luis Figo declaring him as the king and the greatest whilst Cristano Ronaldo declared that Eusebio was always eternal and a great man. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho led a more touching tribute to the fallen star speaking to the media about the legacy he has left behind:
“Eusebio is one of the greatest footballers in the history of football. He’s at this level – Eusebio, Charlton, Pele. For Portugal he means more than that. No colour, no clubs, no political sides. For Portuguese people Eusebio is Eusebio and for sure you will get some images over the next couple of days and I think you will understand what Eusebio means for our country. I think he is immortal. We all know what he meant for football and especially for Portuguese football.”
The footballing world joins Portugal in mourning the passing of world of the game’s greatest players. Eusebio created a legacy for all us to remember and will live on in our memories as an entertainer and as a true legend of football. As Luis Figo said he was the King of Portuguese football – the king is dead, long live the King!