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Anniversary of a classic encounter sparks fond memories of a legend.

FIFTY years ago this week - on Wednesday, May 2, 1962 - Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 to retain the European Cup. It was the first appearance on such a stage for a player who would become one of the greatest of all time, Eusebio.

In the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, Ferenc Puskas scored a hat-trick to give Real Madrid a 3-2 half time lead. In the second half, though, Benfica scored three goals without reply, the last two coming from the fierce boot of a 20-year-old Eusebio.

After the final whistle Puskas sought out Eusebio and offered his shirt. It was widely interpreted as a symbolic gesture, an acknowledgement of the best of one generation giving way to the best of another.

In fact, the 1962 European Cup final was unique in that it featured not two but three of the greatest players of all time. Also playing for Real Madrid was Alfredo Di Stefano. The Blond Arrow, as he was known in that golden era for nicknames, combined the powerful running of a Bobby Charlton with the delicate touch of a Zinedine Zidane.

Puskas, who was known as the Galloping Major - before fleeing into exile he had been an officer in the Hungarian army - was, in reality, a tubby man who would have borne little resemblance to an athlete in uniform, and no more in football kit - until, that is, someone passed him a ball, at any speed, angle or height. His control could elicit gasps from a crowd, according to Malcolm Allison, the former Manchester City coach who was an early student of the world game.

In a less sophisticated age than our own Eusebio was the Black Panther. He was perhaps the first African sportsman to be widely revered in Europe.

Eusebio was fast, finely balanced with a ferocious shot. In Soccer For Thinkers, Allison wrote: "When Eusebio places a ball for a free kick 40 yards out, every spectator knows he has enough power to put in a goal-scoring shot off a threeor four-pace run." In open play he would kick the ball way past a defender and then dash after it before releasing a thunderous shot.

And he was also renowned for his humility and sportsmanship, which reminds us that he played a long time ago. As a young boy I was privileged to see Eusebio play twice - in a 1966 World Cup semi-final when he scored a penalty for Portugal in defeat to England, and in the 1968 European Cup final when Benfica lost 4-1 after extra time to Manchester United. At Wembley in 1968 Eusebio applauded warmly when Alex Stepney saved one of his shots - a shot late in normal time that could have won the game - and did not complain about being kicked by Nobby Stiles.

Eusebio was born in what is now Maputo, Mozambique, then part of Portuguese East Africa. Benfica poached him from a feeder club for their Lisbon rivals Sporting.

In fact, four of Benfica's five goals against Real Madrid were scored by players recruited from Portugal's African colonies - two by Eusebio, one by Mario Coluna - a striker withdrawn into midfield who coach Bela Guttmann regarded at the time as being even more influential - and captain Jose Aguas.

Aguas was born in Angola. Like Eusebio, Coluna hailed from Mozambique, as did goalkeeper Costa Pereira.

Today, as a 70-year-old man, Eusebio can walk into a football stadium anywhere in Europe and the moment he is noticed everyone inside rises in spontaneous applause. Most of those on their feet are too young to have seen Eusebio on a pitch, and will be responding to nothing more than stories they heard from their fathers or grandfathers. But those stories are so strong they cheer wildly. Di Stefano, an even older man, says: "To me, Eusebio will always be the best player of all time." Di Stefano, in truth, goes too far, but Eusebio was certainly one of the very best.


Eusebio in his prime with Benfica in the mid-1960s
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 30, 2012
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