Eusebio, Portugal’s Beloved Soccer Giant, Dies

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He finished as the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals. In 1998, a panel of 100 experts assembled by FIFA named him in its International Football Hall of Fame as one of the sport’s top 10 all-time greats.

“Look, there are only two black people on the list: me and Pele,” Eusebio said, referring to the Brazilian great who was a friend. “I regard that as a great responsibility because I am representing Africa and Portugal, my second homeland.”

Eusebio was born in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, during World War II when the southeast African country was still a Portuguese colony. He came from a poor family but sparkled for his local team and was lured by Benfica to Portugal when he was 18.

His unpretentious and easy manner was complemented by his heart and skills. His popularity in Portugal was such that in 1964, when Italian clubs offered to buy Eusebio for sums that were astronomical for the time, the country’s then-dictator, Antonio Salazar, decreed the player a “national treasure” — meaning he could not be sold abroad.

Eusebio was a cornerstone of the Benfica team that won back-to-back European titles in the early 1960s. With Benfica, he won 11 Portuguese league titles and five Portuguese Cups.

In the 1966 World Cup quarterfinal in Liverpool, Portugal got off to a dreadful start and was three goals down after 23 minutes.

“We were taken completely by surprise,” Eusebio told The Associated Press at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where the Portuguese had a second meeting with the North Koreans 44 years after the first.

“I remember very clearly what (teammate Antonio) Simoes said when we were 3-0 down. He kept saying, ‘s long as we don’t go four goals down, we’re still in with a chance,'” Eusebio said. “And he was right.”

Eusebio led Portugal’s astonishing comeback by repeatedly charging at the North Korean defense, scoring four goals in just more than 30 minutes.

After his first two goals, he picked the ball out of the net, ran back to midfield and placed the ball on the center spot for the restart. He completed his hat trick in the 56th minute, evening the score. His fourth goal came on a penalty kick as North Korea’s defense collapsed amid the onslaught.

“That was the best game of my life in a Portugal jersey,” Eusebio said. “It left its mark on me.”

Eusebio scored 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal.

After five knee operations, he played his last game for Benfica in 1975. Eusebio then moved to North America, where he spent the last years of his career playing for the Boston Minutemen, Toronto Metros, Las Vegas Quicksilver and Buffalo Stallions through 1980.

Eusebio stayed at Benfica as an assistant coach after his retirement and traveled widely with the Portuguese national team as a paid “soccer ambassador.”

He is survived by his wife, Flora, two daughters and several grandchildren.

(AP Photo:  In this April 27, 1963 file photo, Brazilian footballer Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele, left, enjoys a chat with Eusebio da Silva Ferreira in Lisbon, Portugal.)

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