Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, Portugal's biggest sporting hero, died early Sunday, aged 71. The striker won the Portuguese league title 11 times, and was top scorer at the 1966 World Cup in England.
Portuguese football legend Eusebio da Silva Ferreira died early on Sunday (05.01.2014), the Lusa news agency announced, citing sources at his former club Benfica.
Eusebio, acknowledged as one of the game's greatest-ever strikers, died of cardio-pulmonary arrest, the club said.
Born in Mozambique in 1942, Eusebio made his name as a fearsome striker for Portugal at the 1966 World Cup in England, where he hit a tournament-high nine goals to help his team finish third after losing in the semi-final to the eventual winners England.
That tournament included perhaps his most famous single performance - a quarter final against North Korea. With Portugal trailing 3-0, Eusebio struck four times to inspire his team's turnaround and their eventual 5-3 victory. "That was the best game of my life in a Portugal jersey," Eusebio said later. "It left its mark on me."
But the "Black Panther," as he was nicknamed, also inspired a fulminant comeback win in an epic European Cup final against Real Madrid in 1962, when a first-half hat trick by Ferenc Puskas looked as if it would be enough to secure the trophy for the Spanish club.
Eusebio scored the last two goals as the Lisbon team came back to win 5-3.
He spent 15 years, from 1960 to 1975, playing for Benfica, during which time he hauled in 11 champions' medals, five domestic cup winner's medals, and the European Cup in 1962. He was also named European Footballer of the Year in 1965.
Representing Portugal - and Africa
In 1998, a panel of FIFA experts named him in its International Football Hall of Fame as one of the sport's top 10 all-time greats. "Look, there are only two black people on the list: me and Pele," Eusebio commented, referring to the Brazilian great. "I regard that as a great responsibility because I am representing Africa and Portugal, my second homeland."
Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain who plays for Real Madrid - himself considered by many as currently the best player in the world - posted a picture of himself with Eusebio on his Facebook page, along with the comment: "Always eternal Eusebio, rest in peace."
Chelsea's Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, a winner of the latest incarnation of the European Cup - the Champions League - told Portuguese TV network RTP, "On this sad day of (Eusebio's) death ... I prefer to look upon him as immortal."
German football institution Franz Beckenbauer, one of Eusebio's contemporaries, described him as "one of the greatest football players ever" in a tribute on Twitter, while FIFA President Sepp Blatter concluded his response by saying: "He'll be sorely missed. Rest in peace Black Panther."
The Portuguese had struggled with health problems in recent years, suffering a mild stroke in 2012, and a lung infection the year before. He is survived by his wife, Flora, two daughters and several grandchildren.
bk/msh (Reuters, SID, AP)