Eusebio - Bomber from nowhere

Before Cristiano Ronaldo came along, it was another Portugese footballer in the name of Eusebio, who blazed a trail on the wings.

Published : May 03, 2018 01:40 IST

Portugal's Eusebio was the leading scorer at the 1966 World Cup.
Portugal's Eusebio was the leading scorer at the 1966 World Cup.

Portugal's Eusebio was the leading scorer at the 1966 World Cup.

Eusebio was the leading scorer and perhaps the most attractive player of the 1966 World Cup. Handsome, fluent, technically adept, with a superb burst of pace and a devastatingly powerful right foot, his tremendous finishing did more than anything else to get Portugal into the semifinals, and eventually to win its third place, even if, in the semifinal itself, his steps were effectively dogged by the tiny English right half Nobby Stiles, and his scoring was reduced to a single penalty.

It was a penalty kick, and-its aftermath, which provided one of the most fascinating moments of that richly entertaining World Cup. On the Everton ground in Liverpool, Eusebio had just scored from the spot against a gallant North Korean team which went into a 3-0 quarterfinal lead in 20 minutes; then threw it all away. Eusebio got the ball, out of the net, and was trotting back to the centre circle to put it there when an angry little North Korean player stopped him, to remonstrate.

What he said, what it was that had upset him, we shall never know; and how could Eusebio have known? It was a man from Pyong Yang upbraiding a man from Mozambique. Lourenco Marques, in fact, is where Eusebio was born in 1942. He was 19-years-old when Benfica of Lisbon bought him and immediately made him its first team inside right. Immediately he was thrown into the then important Paris tournament in which Pele was playing for Santos. He scored three times and was manifestly on his way.

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A few months later, Eusebio played for Benfica, the European Cup holder, in the Intercontinental Cup series against Penarol in Montevideo, scoring a fine goal and reaffirming his prowess. But it was in the glorious European Cup Final of 1962, in Amsterdam, that he truly established himself as a major international figure. Benfica was playing Real Madrid, so long the dominant club in that tournament, and it was almost like a private shooting contest between Eusebio, with his superb right foot and Ferenc Puskas, with his legendary left. Puskas scored three goals that night as the long shots whistled home like shells. Eusebio with his right foot scored twice; and after the game, in a symbolic gesture, Puskas took off and presented to him his white Real Madrid shirt. The heir had been crowned.

He certainly had much the better of the argument at Goodison Park in 1966 when Portugal bundled Brazil, and an injured, badly maltreated, Pele out of the World Cup. Manga, the pitifully nervous Brazilian goalkeeper, feebly pushed out Eusebio's cross after fourteen minutes, for Simoes to score the first goal. Eleven minutes more, and Coluna sent over a measured free kick, the giant Torres, Portugal's 1986 World Cup manager, nodded back from the far post, and Eusebio got one of his comparatively rare headed goals. The third Portuguese goal, however, as Eusebio continued to play ducks and drakes with the Brazilian defence, was one of his finest shots; the ball came out to him after a corner and Manga could do nothing with his right footed drive.

Eusebio may not'have been as tough a player as Pele, may not have been physically as hard, but he had his own kind of courage and he showed it by the way he lifted Portugal off the floor running, challenging and shooting with indomitable energy and colossal effect, his long, strong, lean legs, his beautiful footwork, his electric pace, taking him past the Korean defenders.

Finest moment

After 28 minutes, Simoes put Eusebio through, the Koreans couldn't catch him, and it was 3-1. Three minutes from half time, a Korean toppled Torres like a tree, and Eusebio banged in that penalty. Fifteen (minutes into the second half, Eusebio again burst through the Korean defence; and equalised. Perhaps his finest run of the game which was worth his second penalty came when he raced down the left wing. One Korean after another tried vainly to stop him, till at last one of them hacked him down in despair; and Eusebio potted that penalty, too. 4-3, and the brave little North Koreans, too ingenuous to try to protect their lead, had clearly shot their bolt.

Augusto got a fifth goal for Portugal, which was now in the semifinal. Having so crudely kicked Pele, the Portuguese behaved faultlessly at Wembley against England, and Stiles largely had Eusebio in his pocket. Unlike Pele, Eusebio tended to depend, for his effectiveness, on sustained runs, and Stiles just wouldn't let him have any. Eusebio got the only Portuguese goal after Jackie Charlton punched out a ball which Torres headed over the keeper, Gordon Banks; A right footed penalty shot gave Banks no chance. That, alas, was the last the World Cup would ever see of Eusebio.

Success never seemed to spoil him. He came off the field at Wembley in tears, almost as if he knew that it was the end of something, but in the subsequent Third Place match he netted another penalty, Portugal's opening goal, against the Russians, and his team had the slight consolation of winning, 2-1.

Salient figure

Knee injuries undermined Eusebio's career in the 1970s though, like Pele, he drew it out for as long as he could. He played for Boston in the North American Soccer League, he had a spell with Monterrey in the Mexican League, but if the shot remained, the old, devastating pace had gone.

Critics of Eusebio have said that when it finally came to the true test, the semifinal of the World Cup against England, he failed it, didn't show the Pele-like grit and combativeness required to shake off the shackles placed on him by Nobby Stiles. There may be an element of truth in this, but after all, the fact that Portugal was in the semifinal at all was thanks in large part to Eusebio.

He had flourished against Brazil, he had excelled against North Korea, and do not forget that four years earlier, he had been the refulgent star of a great European Cup final. As leading scorer of the 1966 World Cup, he remained a salient figure, even if Stiles had the best of it at Wembley. And the four goals Eusebio got against North Korea will continue to delight those who see them repeated on film or television.

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