5 January 2014

Mozambique: Footballing Legend Dies

Photo: Africa Top Sports
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira (left) with Cristiano Ronaldo (file photo).

Maputo — Mozambican footballer Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, often regarded as one of the most talented players in the history of the sport, died in Lisbon on Sunday morning of a heart attack, at the age of 71.

Always referred to simply as Eusebio, this footballing legend was born in the Maputo suburb of Mafalala on 25 January 1942. Talent spotters from the Lisbon club Benfica recruited him and took him to Portugal.

At this time, the colonial-fascist regime of Antonio Salazar claimed that Mozambique was not a colony at all but an "overseas province" of Portugal. Portuguese clubs creamed off the best footballing talent from Mozambique, and it was Mozambican players who made Portugal a power to be reckoned with in the world of football in the 1960s.

Most prominent among them was Eusebio, nicknamed the "black panther". He helped Benfica reach four European Cup finals, the last in 1968 when they lost to Manchester United in extra-time at Wembley. Benfica won the European trophy in 1961 and 1962.

Eusebio was the top-scorer at the 1966 World Cup with nine goals that helped Portugal reach the semi-finals. Four of those goals were scored in a nail-biting quarter-final against North Korea.

At first it seemed that the Koreans were about to knock Portugal out, and at one point the score was 3-0 in the Koreans' favour. Eusebio brought Portugal back, and the final score was a 5-3 victory for Portugal.

In Portugal, his performances inspired Benfica to 11 domestic titles. He was the all-time top scorer at Benfica, with 638 goals in 614 matches.

Athough he was not a European, he was crowned "European footballer of the year" in 1965. The Salazar regime regarded him as a key part of its claim to be non-racial, and forbade him from leaving the country, when he was offered a position at the Italian club, Inter-Milan.

In an interview in 2008, Eusebio recalled "I explained to Salazar that I had the chance to earn a lot of money, but he said 'No, you're part of the patrimony of Portugal, you can't leave'".

After Mozambican independence, Eusebio opted to stay in Portugal, as a Portuguese citizen. Since at the time Mozambican legislation did not permit dual nationality, Eusebio automatically lost the right to Mozambican citizenship. But when he visited Mozambique in 1985, President Samora Machel offered him a Mozambican diplomatic passport.

Eusebio went on record as saying that when he died, his coffin should be covered with the flags of Benfica, Mozambique and Portugal.

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