Portugal’s Eusébio passes

The striker, one of the all-time world greats, dies aged 71

Eusébio with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.
Eusébio with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. SERGIO PEREZ (REUTERS)

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, the Benfica and Portugal great, died overnight Saturday of heart failure. Shortly after the news was made public on Sunday morning, the Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning.

A sportsman who was taken to the heart of a nation on and off the field, Eusébio made his name at Benfica after his mother intervened to ensure he was not signed by city rivals Sporting Lisbon. He debuted for the club in 1961 at the outset of a period of domination at home and on the continent. Benfica won the European Cup the season before Eusébio joined, and again in his first full season with the team. He helped the side to a further three European Cup finals and won 11 Portuguese Liga titles and five domestic cups.

Eusébio was born in 1942 in Lourenço Marques — now Maputo — in Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony. It was in the red of the national side that Eusébio achieved world renown, especially through his performances at the 1966 World Cup in England.

In a quarterfinal match, North Korea assumed a 3-0 lead after 25 minutes. Eusébio proceeded to score four times in a little over half-an-hour to turn the match in Portugal's favor, José Augusto adding the coup de grace in an eventual 5-3 victory. Despite finding the net again in the semifinals against England, Eusébio could not prevent a 2-1 defeat. However, he finished the tournament, Portugal's first World Cup, as top scorer with nine goals.

Eusébio won two Golden Boots as European top scorer and a Ballon d'Or award in 1965. He was three times top scorer in the European Cup and twice voted Portuguese Footballer of the Year, additionally winning the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award in 1966.

With 41 goals for the national team, Eusébio sits third in the all-time list behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Pauleta. Ronaldo, the current Portugal captain, wrote on Twitter: "Always eternal, Eusébio, rest in peace." José Mourinho also spoke of the striker, on Portuguese state broadcaster RTP: "He was not only a great inspiration but also an important figure in upholding the values, principles and feelings of football, even after finishing his career," he said.

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