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Eusebio

Footballer

Footballer

Born: January 25, 1942; Died: January 5, 2014

Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, known as Eusebio, who has died aged 71, was a beloved and respected football star who was born into poverty in Africa but became an international sporting icon. He is acknowledged as one of the game's greatest ever strikers and was voted one of the 10 best players of all time.

Affectionately known as the Black Panther or The King, he was born in Mozambique but made his name as a fearsome striker for Portugal at the 1966 World Cup in England, where he was top scorer with nine goals. He also won the European Cup with Benfica in 1962 and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965.

His biggest accomplishment was probably leading Portugal to their third-place finish in 1966, but his agility and speed made him one of Europe's most dangerous forwards for most of a career that lasted two decades. He won 64 caps and scored 41 goals for Portugal, records that stood for almost two decades.

He was also awarded the Ballon d'Or in 1965 as Europe's player of the year and twice won the Golden Boot — in 1968 and 1973 — for being top scorer in Europe. According to football's world governing body FIFA, he scored 679 goals in a total of 678 official games.

None of his goals are more famous than those he scored against North Korea in the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup. With Portugal trailing 3-0, Eusebio inspired his team's turnaround with four goals and an eventual 5-3 victory.

While Portugal went on to lose to England in the semifinals, Eusebio became even more popular at home when he wept openly as he left the field following the defeat.

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

"There are only two black people on the list: me and Pele," Eusebio said of the honour, 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 Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, the Mozambican capital, during the Second World War when the southeast African country was still a Portuguese colony.

He came from a poor family and used to play barefoot in the streets of Maputo with a ball of rags. He started playing professionally in Mozambique's Sporting de Lourenco Marques and was hired by Benfica in 1960, even though he was expected to join Benfica's great rivals Sporting Lisbon.

Known for his unpretentious and easy manner as well as his courage and ball 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 that the player was a national treasure, meaning that he could not be sold abroad.

In a playing career unparalleled in Portugal, Eusebio was a cornerstone of the Benfica team that won back-to-back European titles in the early 1960s.

In an epic European Cup final against Real Madrid in 1962, when a first-half hat trick by Ferenc Puskas looked like it would be enough to secure the trophy for the Spanish club, Eusebio scored the last two goals as the Lisbon team came back to win 5-3 and clinch Benfica's second straight continental title.

With Benfica, he won 11 Portuguese league titles and five Portuguese Cups, and remains the club's best-known player. A bronze statue of him, poised to kick a ball, stands outside Benfica's Stadium of Light.

However, his display in the game against North Korea had already immortalised him to most Portuguese fans. In that quarterfinal at Goodison Park in Liverpool, Portugal made a bad start and was three goals down after 23 minutes but Eusebio led Portugal's legendary comeback by repeatedly charging at the Korean defence, scoring four goals in just over 30 minutes.

After his first two goals, he picked the ball out of the net, ran back to the halfway line and placed it in the centre spot for the restart.

He completed his hat trick with a 56th-minute equaliser before scoring his fourth from the penalty spot as North Korea's defence fell apart.

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

He scored 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal. After five knee operations, he played his last game for Benfica in 1975.

He 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 to 1980.

He stayed on at Benfica as an ­assistant coach after his retirement and travelled widely with the Portuguese national side as a soccer ambassador.

Eusebio was referred to as the O Rei (the king) in his later years, enjoying widespread affection.

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

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