Portugal is officially mourning one of the world's greatest soccer players ever. Eusebio died on Sunday after suffering a heart attack at the age of 71.
Eusebio, who was born Eusébio da Silva Ferreira in Mozambique, made his mark at the 1966 World Cup, overshadowing even Pele at that tournament. Eusebio scored two goals against Pele’s Brazil in the group stage and Portugal advanced to a quarter-final game against North Korea.
Eusebio was the top scorer in the 1966 World Cup, but he went down in history for the North Korea match in particular.
Portugal fell behind 0-3 to North Korea, but, in an incredible comeback, won 5-3 in the end, thanks to four goals from Eusebio.
Despite Eusebio’s skills, Portugal didn't win the tournament. The team succumbed in the semi-finals to host nation England, the eventual World Cup winner.
Today, soccer fans like to debate whether the best player in the world is Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Well, Eusebio and Pele were the Messi and Ronaldo of their time and, during the 1966 tournament, they became friends for life, according to Pele.
During his time as a player, Eusebio also suffered a lot of racial abuse. But he said being called "black" was not an insult as far as he was concerned, and that black players should "shrug it off." That’s not what a lot of black players would say today. But Eusebio had this view that you should do your talking with your skills on the field.
After Eusebio's great World Cup performance, Portugal’s strongman Antonio de Oliveira Salazar declared Eusebio a national treasure, effectively preventing him from going abroad to play for top dollars. That seems quaint compared to today’s multi-million euro transfer deals. Eusebio ended up playing for Portugal’s top club, Benfica, for 15 years.
After Salazar’s death in 1970, Eusebio was able to spend the late stages of his career abroad, playing for, among other teams, the Boston Minutemen of the North American Soccer League.
He returned to Boston last September. Pele and Eusebio were the guests of honor at a Portugal-Brazil friendly match at Gillette Stadium near Boston.
I was only a few feet away when Pele and Eusebio came out to the field, to shake hands with the players. I could see that Eusebio was not in great shape physically, but you could tell that he was in his element. He really loved it.