No.16: The Black Panther Purrs (England, 1966)
The history of the World Cup is littered with players who have shone, but ultimately fallen just short of glory. Think of Michael Ballack in 2002 and Paul Gascoigne in 1990. But there are no players that have impressed so much in a tournament without lifting the ultimate prize quite like Eusebio did in 1966.
Whilst the man dubbed “The Black Panther” played for Portugal at international level, he was born in Mozambique and is widely regarded as the greatest African-born player of all time. With Benfica he won multiple league titles and the European Cup, but he arguably best remembered for his showings at the 1966 World Cup.
In that tournament he produced some stunning displays for the Portuguese side, who were making their first ever appearance in the World Cup finals. Aged just 24 at the time, he netted in his team’s second game of the competition against Bulgaria, before he fired in a brace against reigning champions Brazil to dump them out of the competition.
That result put the Portuguese into the quarter-finals where they met North Korea. After a terrible opening 25 minutes, Eusebio and co. found themselves 3-0 down and staring at an early exit. But the man dubbed the Black Panther showcased his class, with a stunning 40 minute display in front of the watching Goodison Park crowd.
Eusebio netted a brace prior to halt time to put his side within one goal of the North Koreans, before two more goals in the first 15 minutes after the interval put Portugal in front. They eventually ran out 5-3 winners and Eusebio was on seven goals for the competition.
Portugal were knocked out in the semi-finals by hosts and eventual winners England, but Eusebio netted both in the semi-final defeat and the third place playoff, in which Portugal won 2-1 against the Soviet Union. Despite England’s win, the 24-year-old had captured the heart of the English people and finished up with nine goals and the coveted Golden Boot.
Here are some of Eusebio’s highlights from the 1966 tournament:
What happened next?
Upon losing the semi-final against England, Eusebio was seen leaving the pitch in tears. That game has since been dubbed as the Jogo das Lagrimas by Portuguese supporters, but they’re third place finish in 1966 still represents their best ever World Cup finish.
Sadly, Eusebio died in January this year and the football world united in grief and recognition of a true legend.
Quite remarkably, the goals he scored at Goodison Park are still spoken about on Merseyside 48 years on by those of an older generation. His performances in 1966 were some of the finest ever seen on English soil and he is rightly regarded as one of the game’s all-time great figures.
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