Tens of thousands of people were expected to pay their respects yesterday at the funeral of Portuguese great Eusebio, whose death has been met by worldwide tributes.
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who died of cardio-pulmonary arrest early on Sunday aged 71, reigned over Portuguese soccer in the 1960s, bringing glory to both his club SL Benfica and his country.
His death led to an outpouring of tributes, with the Portuguese government decreeing three days of national mourning and flags in Lisbon to fly at half-mast ahead of his funeral.
“Football has lost a legend, but Eusebio’s place among the greats will never be taken away,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter wrote on Twitter.
English legend Bobby Charlton, who helped Manchester United to victory over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final, said it had been a privilege to have known the man dubbed the “Black Panther.”
“He was one of the finest players I ever had the privilege to play against,” Charlton said at Old Trafford in Manchester on Sunday, where about 75,000 fans staged a minute’s applause ahead of an FA Cup match. “Not only that, he was a true sportsman. His goals record is incredible and stands the test of time.”
The player’s body was taken to Benfica’s Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, where fans placed flowers and prayed in front of Eusebio’s statue.
“For me, he is simply the creator of football,” 24-year-old fan Luis Marques said, while one banner left at the statue read: “I haven’t come to say goodbye, but to say thank you.”
A funeral mass was to be held in the Seminary Church near the stadium yesterday and the player was to be laid to rest at the Lumiar cemetery in the city’s northern suburbs.
In line with Eusebio’s wishes his coffin would, before the funeral ceremony, be carried around the stadium where he so often delighted fans.
“Portugal has today lost one of its most beloved sons, Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. The country mourns his death,” Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva said.
Eusebio, born into poverty in Africa, scored 733 goals in 745 matches and rivaled all-time greats such as Pele, Alfredo di Stefano and Charlton.
“I was the best player in the world, top scorer in the world and Europe. I did everything, except win a World Cup,” Eusebio said in a interview in 2011, recalling his tears after Portugal’s loss in the 1966 World Cup semi-final to England.
From humble origins in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique, Eusebio was to emerge as one of the world’s most feared strikers, combining panther-like pace with a ferocious shooting ability.
Born in 1942, the poor boy from Maputo rose to prominence in Mozambique soccer circles as a teenager through his performances for Sporting Clube de Lourenco Marques, a team with links to Portugal’s Sporting.
With his exceptional technique, strength and goal-scoring record, it was not long before word of Eusebio’s prowess soon filtered back to Portugal. In December 1960 he was offered trials with Sporting.
Although keen, Eusebio was not willing to risk leaving his beloved mother unless there was the firm promise of a contract. Sporting baulked, creating an opening for Benfica, who snapped up the youngster’s signature.
In an early game for Benfica he had outshone Pele in a friendly with Santos and in 1962 he scored the crucial goals in a 5-3 victory over Real Madrid in the European Cup final.
When Madrid’s legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas symbolically handed his jersey to Eusebio after the match, the message was clear — the torch had passed and in 1965 Eusebio was awarded the Ballon d’Or.
However, while Eusebio excelled with Benfica in Europe, it was his exploits at the 1966 World Cup for which he will be best remembered.
Eusebio’s nine goals in England propelled Portugal to a third-placed finish, and a succession of opposing teams simply had no answer to the power and pace of his play.
He scored twice in the 3-1 victory which sent holders Brazil out of the competition.
In the quarter-finals Eusebio was unstoppable, pulling off a one-man rescue act after Portugal went 3-0 down against North Korea after just 20 minutes.
North Korea were blown away by a four-goal display from Eusebio as Portugal won 5-3.
In the semi-final against England, Eusebio was effectively marked out of the match, but he did find the net again.
He scored his ninth goal of the tournament in the third-placed playoff win over the Soviet Union.
He finished his 64-cap career having accumulated 41 goals for Portugal. He also earned European soccer’s Golden Boot award twice and was Portugal’s top scorer every season between 1964 and 1973.
He helped Benfica to 11 league championships and five domestic cups.
In 1975 he joined the flow of players involved in the ill-fated North American Soccer League, before retiring in 1979 after winding down his career in Mexico and Portugal.
Married with two daughters, in retirement he became an ambassador for Benfica and the Portuguese soccer federation.
“Eusebio will always be eternal. Rest in peace,” Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo wrote in a message posted on Facebook alongside a photograph of himself and his hero.
A ceremony at which the Portuguese president is to present Ronaldo with a prestigious honor has been postponed from today until later in the month in respect of Eusebio’s passing, the presidential office announced.