Football great Eusebio dies at 71 of heart failure

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 5, 2014 at 7:22 am •  Published: January 5, 2014
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Eusebio's stellar football career for club and country included several sensational performances which are still remembered half a century later.

In an epic European Cup final against Real Madrid in 1962, when a first-half hat trick by Ferenc Puskas looked enough to secure the trophy for the Spanish club, Eusebio scored the last two goals as Benfica fought back to win 5-3 and clinch its second straight continental title.

But none of Eusebio's goals were more famous than those he scored against North Korea in the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup. With Portugal trailing 3-0, Eusebio inspired his team's turnaround with four goals and an eventual 5-3 victory.

Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who died Sunday aged 71, became affectionately known as the Black Panther for his athletic prowess and clinical finishing that made him one of the world's top scorers during his heyday in the 1960s for Benfica and the Portuguese national team.

Eusebio died at his Lisbon home of heart failure at 3.30 a.m. local time (0330 GMT) Sunday, his biographer Jose Malheiro said. "His health was very poor," Malheiro told reporters. Eusebio was admitted to hospital several times over the past year for the treatment of heart and respiratory problems. Benfica confirmed his death.

Born into poverty in Africa, Eusebio became an international sporting icon and was voted one of the 10 best players of all time. For the Portuguese, he was a national hero.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain who plays for Real Madrid, commented on his Facebook page, "Always eternal Eusebio, rest in peace." Former Portugal captain Luis Figo, the 2001 FIFA world player of the year, tweeted, "The king!! Great loss for us all! The greatest!!"

"On this sad day of (Eusebio's) death ... I prefer to look upon him as immortal," Chelsea's Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho told public broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa.

The Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half-mast. The Portuguese Football Federation ordered a minute's silence ahead of Sunday's Portuguese Cup games.

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva made a nationally televised address to the nation to praise the "affability and humility" of a man who never let stardom go to his head. "His talent brought joy for entire generations, even those who didn't live through the most glorious moments of his career," Cavaco Silva said.

Eusebio achieved global fame, and tributes poured in from around the football world. FIFA President Sepp Blatter tweeted, "Football has lost a legend. But Eusebio's place among the greats will never be taken away," while German great Franz Beckenbauer also took to Twitter to comment, "One of the greatest football players ever has passed away."

Perhaps Eusebio's biggest accomplishment was leading Portugal to a third-place finish at the 1966 World Cup, but his agility and speed made him one of Europe's most dangerous forwards for most of a career that lasted two decades.

He was awarded the Ballon d'Or in 1965 as Europe's player of the year and twice won the Golden Boot — in 1968 and 1973 — for being top scorer in Europe. According to football's world governing body FIFA, he scored 679 goals in a total of 678 official games.

At the 1966 World Cup, where Portugal went on to lose to host and eventual champion England in the semifinals, Eusebio became even more popular at home when he wept openly as he left the field following the defeat.

He finished as the tournament's top scorer with nine goals. In 1998, a panel of 100 experts gathered by FIFA named him in its International Football Hall of Fame as one of the sport's top 10 all-time greats.

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