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Eusébio da Silva Ferreira: 1942–2014

Published: Sunday 5 January 2014, 19.30CET
Former Portugal forward Eusébio, who has died aged 71, was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of football and won the trophies to match his talent at SL Benfica.
by José Nuno Pimentel
from Lisbon

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Published: Sunday 5 January 2014, 19.30CET

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira: 1942–2014

Former Portugal forward Eusébio, who has died aged 71, was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of football and won the trophies to match his talent at SL Benfica.

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, who has passed away from heart failure just three weeks from turning 72, was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of football with the trophies to match.

Born in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony on 25 January 1942, Eusébio began his career with Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques. He arrived in Lisbon aged 18 in December 1960 to sign for SL Benfica in great secrecy, under the name of Ruth Malosso, Sporting Clube de Portugal having claimed that they had reached a first agreement with their namesake club.

While the dispute was settled, Eusébio missed almost all of Benfica's 1960/61 Liga and European Champion Clubs' Cup-winning campaign. He eventually made his debut in a 4-1 Portuguese Cup loss at Vitória FC on 1 June 1961, the day after Benfica had beaten FC Barcelona 3-2 in Berne to lift the European Cup. The senior players therefore absent, Eusébio missed a penalty but also scored Benfica's only goal.

A week later, Eusébio made his first league outing in the last round of matches, scoring the second goal in a 4-0 victory at neighbours CF Os Belenenses. He would win 11 Liga titles in 15 seasons at Benfica, plus five Portuguese Cups, and was league top scorer an incredible ten years running.

He became a crucial member of the team and fired Benfica to a memorable triumph in the 1961/62 European Cup, netting twice in a 5-3 final triumph against Real Madrid CF in Amsterdam. It was a performance which helped to launch his career.

The eternal Portuguese football ambassador, known as the 'Black Panther', also marvelled the world with his magic, instinct and genius, as well as his powerful shot, for the national side. Capped 64 times, he scored 45 goals, nine of them at the 1966 FIFA World Cup where he collected the Golden Boot. He struck two in the 3-1 elimination of holders Brazil in the group stage and four more in an extraordinary 5-3 comeback win against North Korea in the quarter-finals. He left Wembley in tears after the 2-1 last-four loss to hosts England, but the third-placed finish was still a superb effort in Portugal's major finals debut.

His humble and friendly character, regarded by all as a great human being, was exemplified when, in 1968, he earned plaudits for a particularly fine gesture of sportsmanship in Benfica's European Cup final against Manchester United FC at Wembley. In the closing stages of normal time, with the score at 1-1, he bore down on United goalkeeper Alex Stepney, only to see the keeper make a brilliant point-blank save from a blistering shot. Eusébio forgot his disappointment to pat Stepney on the back. United went on to win 4-1.

In all, the records show that he registered 727 goals in 715 matches wearing the Benfica shirt. He left the Lisbon outfit in 1975, playing for various North American and Mexican teams, as well as for Portuguese sides SC Beira-Mar in 1976/77 and União de Tomar in 1977/78. His loyalty to "his" Benfica never wavered, though. Once, at Beira-Mar, he refused to take a dangerous shot against his old club. "I knew I would score," he said as justification.

His illustrious list of honours also included the 1965 Ballon d'Or and two European Golden Shoes in 1968 and 1973. In February 2010, Eusébio became only the third man to receive the UEFA President's Award, following Alfredo Di Stéfano and Sir Bobby Charlton.

Eusébio's place in Portuguese society was shown on his death when the government declared three days of national mourning, with tributes paid by the President and Prime Minister as well as from figures throughout the world of football.

Last updated: 09/05/14 2.59CET

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