One of the all-time greats, Eusebio passed away on Sunday at the age of 71.
Always remembered in England for his goals in the 1966 World Cup – he was top scorer with nine as England triumphed – and netting twice as Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the 1962 European Cup Final, Eusebio ended his career with a staggering 733 goals in 745 professional matches, including 41 in 64 internationals. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965.
“You talk about Pele, George Best and the all-time greats and he’s right up there alongside them, he’s in that company,” said legendary double-winner Cliff.
“He’s someone who lived his life well and was fully respected by everyone. No-one has a bad word to say about him.
“He played the game correctly, I would doubt if he ever got sent off or even booked and there was a great incident in the European Cup Final of 1968, Benfica against Manchester United, when he applauded Alex Stepney after he made a save, an iconic moment.
“That said it all about the player and the person.”
Eusebio was also involved in two of the most famous matches in our history.
Before helping Benfica topple Real Madrid in the 1962 final, the striker lined-up for the Portuguese champions against Spurs in the semi-finals.
We managed to keep Eusebio quiet in both legs, but it was a case of ‘so near, so far’ as Benfica ran out 4-3 winners on aggregate as we were left to rue disallowed goals in both legs.
“We just didn’t get the run of the ball and it was so disappointing to go out,” reflected Cliff.
“We didn’t have a particular plan for Eusebio because we wanted to go out and play our game, but we knew how dangerous he was anywhere around 30 yards from goal.
“We actually managed to keep him relatively quiet, he didn’t score in either leg. Dave Mackay would always be in and around and there weren’t many players who got the better of Mackay, not in my experience, anyway!
“We knew whoever went through that semi-final would probably end up going on to win the European Cup, and they duly did.
“Real Madrid reached the final but that great team with the likes of Di Stefano and Puskas was starting to fade and Benfica beat them 5-2 – Eusebio scored twice.”
Almost 50 years on, Cliff had the chance to meet Eusebio again as we played Benfica for the Eusebio Cup in August 2010, a game we won 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz.
“Eusebio asked at the time if there were any players going to the game that had played against Benfica back in 1962,” he recalled.
“I went out there as a guest of his and a guest of the club. It was lovely to meet him again. I’ve a signed shirt from that visit that I was only looking at the other day. That’s a bit special.”
Above: A photograph from the first leg of our European Cup semi-final against Benfica in March, 1962 taken from our 1962-63 handbook...