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Eusebio, Portugal's beloved soccer giant, dies

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm •  Published: January 5, 2014
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A half century later, Eusebio's goals are still a source of wonder in the country where he stood above all others in his sport.

There was the European Cup final against Real Madrid in 1962, when he scored the last two goals to rally Benfica to a 5-3 victory and its second straight continental title.

There was the 1966 World Cup quarterfinal against North Korea. With Portugal trailing 3-0, Eusebio inspired his team, striking for four goals that led to a 5-3 victory.

Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who was born into poverty in Africa and became one of the world's top scorers during the 1960s, died Sunday at 71.

He died at his Lisbon home of heart failure, his biographer, Jose Malheiro, said. Eusebio was admitted to the hospital several times over the past year for heart and respiratory problems.

"A football genius and example of humility, an outstanding athlete and generous man, Eusebio was for all sports fans and for all Portuguese an example of professionalism, determination and devotion to the colors of the national jersey and of Benfica," Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said in a statement.

A bronze statue of Eusebio, poised to kick a ball, stands outside Benfica's Stadium of Light, where fans began laying flowers after his death was announced. Eusebio's coffin was to be taken to Benfica's Stadium of Light so fans could pay respects.

Known affectionately as the Black Panther for his athleticism and finishing touch, Eusebio was voted one of the 10 best players in soccer history.

The Portuguese government declared three days of national mourning, with flags at half-staff. The Portuguese Football Federation ordered a minute's silence before Sunday's Portuguese Cup games.

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!!"

"I prefer to look upon him as immortal," Chelsea's Portuguese coach, Jose Mourinho, told public broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa.

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's biggest accomplishment may have been his play in leading Portugal to third place 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 soccer's governing body, he had 679 goals in 678 official games.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter tweeted, "Football has lost a legend. But Eusebio's place among the greats will never be taken away." German great Franz Beckenbauer also took to Twitter: "One of the greatest football players ever has passed away."

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