Born on January 25, 1942, in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique, Eusébio joined Portugal's Benfica club as a teenager. He helped Benfica win 11 league titles and the 1962 European Cup, and scored a tournament-high nine goals during the 1966 World Cup. Voted one of the 20th century's top players, the soccer icon has been honored by his former club with a statue and the creation of the annual Eusébio Cup.
Early Years and Career
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira was born on January 25, 1942, in Lourenço Marques (Maputo), Mozambique. Raised in the poor neighborhood of Mafalala, he honed his footwork by playing soccer with a rolled-up newspaper, and eventually landed with the local pro team, Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques.
News of his athletic capabilities reached Bela Guttmann, manager of Portugal's Sport Lisboa e Benfica club, who sought to sign the teenager. A battle ensued over Eusébio's rights, as the Mozambique club was affiliated with Sporting Clube de Portugal, but Benfica emerged as the winner of his services.
Eusébio made his debut for Benfica as a 19-year-old in 1961. Despite his youth, he overwhelmed opponents with his speed, elusive moves and powerful shots on goal. Although Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, few Europeans had witnessed an African player of such startling talent, and he was nicknamed "Pantera Negra" (Black Panther) and "Perla Negra" (Black Pearl) by admiring fans.
Eusébio scored twice in Benfica's European Cup victory over Real Madrid in 1962, and he won the Ballon d'Or as the European Football Player of the Year in 1965. However, he is perhaps best remembered for his performance during the 1966 World Cup in England. After scoring twice to knock out defending champion Brazil, he netted an incredible four goals to help Portugal overcome a 3-0 deficit to North Korea in the quarterfinals. Eusébio scored once as Portugal came up short against eventual champion England, and again in the consolation victory over the Soviet Union. Although he was unable to lift his side to the ultimate victory, Eusébio made a lasting impression with his tournament-leading nine goals.
Eusébio won the Golden Boot as Europe's top scorer in 1968 and 1973, and helped Benfica win 11 Primeira Liga titles before ending his run with the club in 1975. The iconic athlete spent most of the remainder of his career in North America, notably leading Toronto Metros-Croatia to victory in the 1976 Soccer Bowl, before retiring in 1979.
Eusébio finished ninth in the International Federation of Football History and Statistics' poll of the 20th century's top players. To many, he is unquestionably the biggest star in the history of Portuguese soccer, a status affirmed by his statue outside of Benfica's Estádio da Luz.
Benfica honored the legend with the creation in 2008 of the Eusébio Cup, an annual preseason match between the Portuguese club and a highly regarded international opponent.
Eusébio was hospitalized with pneumonia in December 2011 and suffered several health setbacks in the following months, but he was healthy enough to join Benfica for its trip to the 2013 UEFA Europa League final in the Netherlands.