FEATURE: A Personal Tribute To Eusébio

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Features, Opinion, Videos
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Photo: Wikipedia Commons/ainudil

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/ainudil

The great Portuguese footballer Eusébio passed away at his home in Lisbon on Sunday leading to an immediate outpouring of grief.

Born Eusébio da Silva Ferreira in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, the world would come to know him as Portugal’s greatest athletic superstar. At Benfica he would become a legend, winning two European Cups and 11 league titles with the club.

He scored an amazing 733 goals in 745 matches in all competitions during his distinguished career. That includes 41 goals in 64 matches for Portugal. His physical strength, speed and exceptional skill earned him the nickname the Black Panther.

But Eusébio is best remembered for his performance at the 1966 World Cup in England when he scored a tournament high nine goals. His performance in the quarter-finals against a surprisingly strong North Korea side is probably one of the greatest single game performances in the tournament’s history.

Portugal fell behind 3-0 early before Eusébio took over. He would score four consecutive goals, including two on penalties to complete one of the greatest comebacks in World Cup history. Portugal would go on to defeat the Soviet Union in the third place match, earning the country its highest finish at the World Cup.

Portugal at the time was still ruled by the Estado Novo regime under António Salazar, whose ultra-conservative orthodoxy preached extreme nationalism, strong Christianity and a defense of the country’s colonial empire.

The regime exploited the image of Eusébio and Benfica. Portugal was still a very poor country back in the 1960s and Eusébio was used as a symbol of the strength of the regime. He would renounce the way he was treated in later years.

For those of us born in the 1980s and beyond we cannot possibly understand the cultural impact Eusébio had in the prime of his career. But just mentioning his name around my family is always a sure way to bring out a smile.

For those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s during a very dark period in Portugal’s history, Eusébio became a symbol of hope and promise.

In Portuguese culture it is customary to always mourn a person when they pass away. But, for Eusébio I prefer instead to celebrate his life and remember him as the world remembers him, as an ambassador of the global game, Africa, Portuguese football, and Portugal itself.

Sincerely,

Rui Miguel Martins

VIDEO: Portugal Defeats North Korea 5-3 at the 1966 World Cup (RTP Archives)

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