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On this day: Portuguese legend Eusebio passed away at the age of 71

Portugal v Turkey - Group A Euro 2008
Portugal v Turkey - Group A Euro 2008
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We take a look at former Ballon d’Or winner Eusebio’s career on the 7th anniversary of his death.

It’s January 5th, 2014 and Portugal wakes up to the sad news that their footballing legend Eusebio has passed away. The formidable striker was the first Portuguese player to receive a Ballon d’Or back in 1965 when he was just 22-years-old. To this day, the Benfica legend is regarded as the best Portuguese footballer in history, only partially dethroned by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Born in Mozambique, Eusebio began his career at Sporting’s affiliate club Sporting Clube de Lourenco Marques. At the tender age of 17, the striker’s talent was already undeniable. Therefore, in the summer of 1960, a heated dispute between Lisbon based clubs Sporting and Benfica began. In one of the greatest plot twists in Portuguese football’s history, Benfica hijacked the player at the airport as he arrived to sign for Sporting. The Eagles put Eusebio on a plane under a false name and hid the player in a hotel in Algarve as they closed the deal with his mother in Lisbon.

On his first season at Benfica, the ‘Black Panther’ led the club to their second-consecutive Champions League trophy (formerly known as the European Cup). He famously scored a brace against Real Madrid in Benfica’s 5-3 triumph. Eusebio’s astonishing speed and crazy finishing skills earned him second place in the World’s Best Player race in 1962. Juventus was among the many European clubs that tried to sign him in that year. However, the Portuguese government sent him off to the military in order to stop the player from moving abroad.

Eusebio rose to international fame in the 1966 World Cup.

Fast forward to 1966 to Portugal’s greatest World Cup achievement. After winning four league titles with Benfica, expectations on the youngster were running high. Nonetheless, Eusebio didn’t disappoint. The striker became the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals. He even helped Portugal secure a third-place and send home an extraordinary Brazilian team led by none other than Pele. Eusebio is recognized as the Brazil legend’s only worthy opponent.

After his death due to cardiac arrest, several clubs and players paid their respects. His eternal club Benfica raised a statue in his honor that remains outside of their stadium to this day. Moreover, the Lisbon side also named the stadium’s avenue after their best player. Cristiano Ronaldo also paid his respects to a man he knew very well, given that Eusebio had worked for their national team from 1979 till his death.

Always eternal Eusebio, rest in peace.

Posted by Cristiano Ronaldo on Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Black Panther had an incredible career, officially scoring 623 goals in just 639 matches. Moreover, the forward netted the goal 471 times on 440 occasions for Benfica. Had it not been for his several knee injuries, many believe Eusebio would’ve become the all-time leading goalscorer in world football.

Rest in power, legend.

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