LISBON, Portugal — Eusebio’s stellar football career for club and country included several sensational performances that are still remembered half a century later.
In an epic European Cup final against Real Madrid in 1962, when a first-half hat trick by Ferenc Puskas looked enough to secure the trophy for the Spanish club, Eusebio scored the last two goals as Benfica fought back to win 5-3 and clinch its second straight continental title.
But none of Eusebio’s goals were 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.
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who died Sunday at age 71, became affectionately known as the Black Panther for his athletic prowess and clinical finishing that made him one of the world’s top scorers during his heyday in the 1960s for Benfica and the Portuguese national team.
Eusebio, who played his last five games as a professional for the Buffalo Stallions during the 1979-80 Major Indoor Soccer League season, died at his Lisbon home of heart failure, his biographer Jose Malheiro said. “His health was very poor,” Malheiro told reporters. Eusebio was hospitalized several times over the past year for the treatment of heart and respiratory problems. Benfica confirmed his death.
Born into poverty in Africa, Eusebio became an international sporting icon and was voted one of the 10 best players of all time. For the Portuguese, he was a national hero.
The Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half-mast. The Portuguese Football Federation ordered a minute’s silence ahead of Sunday’s Portuguese Cup games.
Perhaps Eusebio’s biggest accomplishment was leading Portugal to a third-place finish at the 1966 World Cup, but his agility and speed made him one of Europe’s most dangerous forwards for most of a career that lasted two decades. He was 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 soccer’s world governing body FIFA, he scored 679 goals in a total of 678 official games. He scored once for the Stallions.