Eusebio is the most famous name in the history of Portuguese
football. Born in Mozambique, the legendary centre-forward was the
first world-class striker to emerge from the African continent,
striking nine goals for his adopted country at the 1966 FIFA World
™ to win the Golden Shoe award. Along with his Benfica
and Portugal team-mate Mario Coluna, who also hailed from
Mozambique, he blazed a trail from Africa to European football.
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira began his playing career with his local club, Sporting Club Lourenco Marques, but by the age of 18, word of his prodigious talent had reached the big clubs in Portugal, provoking a fierce bidding war between Lisbon rivals Benfica and Sporting for his signature. So fierce, in fact, that as the wrangling went on, he was forced to flee Lisbon for a tiny Algarve village. When the dust settled, Eusebio was a Benfica player.
A powerful striker blessed with exceptional acceleration and ball-striking abilities, Eusebio was known for his slippery 'cat-like' dribbles, perfected in the street games of his childhood. In only his second outing for the Benfica senior side, in the final of a friendly tournament in Paris, he struck a hat-trick against a Santos side featuring another exalted youngster by the name of Pele.
They were the first in a long line of goals for the Eagles - in all he would score a phenomenal 320 in 313 Portuguese league matches. Such was Eusebio's impact that in 1962, at the age of 20, he proved the chief inspiration behind Benfica's European Cup triumph over Alfredo Di Stefano's imperious Real Madrid, scoring twice as the Portuguese champions prevailed 5-3.
Portugal unearth a phenomenon
Eusebio made his debut for the national team of his adopted country in October 1961 against Luxembourg in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, but it was during qualifying for England 1966 that he really made his mark, scoring seven goals to fire Portugal to a first-ever progression to the FIFA World Cup finals. Although named European Footballer of the Year in 1965, it was at the international game's showpiece event the following year that Eusebio became a truly global phenomenon - the sort the sport had seldom witnessed before.
In their opening first phase match, Portugal saw off Hungary 3-1, before Eusebio then found his scoring touch with Portugal's second goal in a 3-0 defeat of Bulgaria. Eusebio went one better in the final group game against Brazil, netting twice as Portugal eliminated the reigning world champions courtesy of a 3-1 victory.
The Benfica star was not finished there and in the quarter-final against Korea DPR he etched his name in the FIFA World Cup history books. Trailing the Asian underdogs 3-0 after just 25 minutes, Portugal staged a remarkable comeback at Goodison Park courtesy of four goals from the shimmering "Black Panther", eventually triumphing 5-3. The game earned Eusebio a place among the legends of international football and remains to this day one of the best-remembered matches in the history of the competition.
Portugal's run finally ended at the semi-final stage, succumbing 2-1 to hosts and eventual champions England in a game where Eusebio's 82nd minute penalty ensured a tense finish. That strike was Eusebio's eighth in five matches and there was time for one more as he provided Portugal's first goal in the 2-1 win over Russia that secured them third place on the podium. "The 1966 World Cup was the high point of my career," Eusebio said. "We may have lost the semi-final, but Portuguese football was a big winner."
In retrospect, perhaps the sole cause for regret is that this exceptional player found himself hindered by the absence of enough other truly world class talents in the Portugal team. As a result, the 1966 FIFA World Cup was the only occasion on which this grand master, scorer of 41 goals in 64 internationals, graced the world stage.
An enduring icon and symbol of loyalty and pride in his adopted country, Eusebio served Benfica for a decade and a half, winning eleven league titles with the Eagles, before taking up the offer of a golden swansong in the USA. On returning to Portugal with Beira Mar, he then suffered a serious knee injury which finally brought the curtain down on his career.
Regarded today as the greatest ever Portuguese footballer, a bronze statue of the "Black Panther" occupies a proud place outside Benfica's Estadio da Luz. Forty years on, his exploits have lost little of their cache. Other heroes have emerged since - from Luis Figo to Cristiano Ronaldo - and his national scoring record been surpassed by Pauleta, but Eusebio remains almost unchallenged as Portuguese football's greatest name.
The great man sadly passed away in January 2014, and tributes from throughout the world of football poured in. England and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton was one of those who held the Mozambique-born hero in high regard.
"Without doubt, Eusebio was one of the finest players I ever had the privilege to play against," Charlton said. "I feel proud to have been both an opponent and friend and am saddened to hear of his passing."
Did You Know?
As with Pele in Brazil, Eusebio become idolised in Portugal and earned himself the same nickname of O Rei (The King) with this skills.
The Portuguese Football Federation declared Eusebio their ‘Golden Player’ of the past 50 years to mark UEFA’s 50th anniversary in 2004.
Pauleta took Eusebio's mantle as Portugal's record scorer when he netted his 42nd international goal against Latvia on 12 October 2005.
Eusebio’s first goal for Benfica came in a hat-trick he scored in a Paris friendly against a Santos side featuring a youngster named Pele.
Wembley was not the happiest venue for Eusebio, who lost a FIFA World Cup™ semi-final and two European Cup finals under the Twin Towers.