Tributes flood in ahead of Eusebio funeral

Tens of thousands of people are expected to pay their respects at the funeral Monday of Portuguese footballing legend Eusebio, whose death has sparked worldwide tributes.

Flags flew at half mast across Lisbon ahead of the ceremony with the Portuguese government decreeing three days of mourning for Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who died of a heart attack early Sunday aged 71.

Flags flew at half mast across Lisbon ahead of the ceremony with the Portuguese government decreeing three days of mourning for Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, who died of a heart attack early Sunday aged 71.

News of his death was splashed on the cover of all major newspapers, which dedicated pages of tributes to the footballer who reigned over Portuguese football in the 1960s, bringing glory to both his club Benfica and his country.

“Good-bye to the legend,” daily newspaper Diario de Noticias wrote on its front page above a photo of the player after he scored a goal while sports daily O Jogo headlined “Eternal” above a photo of Eusebio.

“Portugal has today lost one of its most beloved sons, Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. The country mourns his death,” President Anibal Cavaco Silva said.

Eusebio’s contemporary Pele, the Brazilian widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time, took to his Twitter account to tell the world: “I cry for the death of my brother Eusebio. We became friends during the 1966 World Cup in England.”

Pele published a photo of the two men together when Portugal beat Brazil 3-1 that year, with Eusebio scoring two of the goals.

The player’s body was taken to Benfica’s Luz stadium (Stadium of Light) on Sunday in Lisbon, where fans placed flowers, handmade posters and scarves with the club’s red and white colours.

“For me, he is simply the creator of football,” said 24-year-old fan Luis Marques, while one banner left at the statue read: “I haven’t come to say goodbye, but to say thank-you.”

A funeral mass will be held in the Seminary Church near the stadium on Monday at 1600 GMT, and the footballer will be laid to rest at the Lumiar cemetery in the city’s northern suburbs.

In line with Eusebio’s wishes his coffin will, before the funeral ceremony, around 1330GMT, be carried around the stadium where he so often delighted fans.

Eusebio, born into poverty in Africa, scored 733 goals in 745 matches and rivalled all-time greats including Pele, Alfredo Di Stefano and Charlton.

“I was the best player in the world, top scorer in the world and Europe. I did everything, except win a World Cup,” Eusebio said in a interview in 2011, recalling his tears after Portugal’s loss in the 1966 World Cup semi-final to England.

From humble origins in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique, Eusebio was to emerge as one of the world’s most feared strikers, combining panther-like pace with a ferocious shooting ability.

Born in 1942, the poor boy from Maputo rose to prominence in Mozambique football circles as a teenager through his performances for Sporting Lourenco Marques.

With his exceptional technique, strength and goal-scoring record, it was not long before word of Eusebio’s prowess soon filtered back to Portugal and he joined Benfica.

In an early game for Benfica, he had outshone Pele in a friendly with Santos, and in 1962 he scored the crucial goals in a 5-3 victory over Real Madrid in the European Cup final.

When Madrid’s legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas symbolically handed his jersey to Eusebio after the match, the message was clear — the torch had passed, and in 1965 Eusebio was awarded the Ballon d’Or.

But while Eusebio excelled with Benfica in Europe, it was his exploits at the 1966 World Cup for which he will be best remembered.

Eusebio’s nine goals in England propelled Portugal to a third-place finish, and a succession of opposing teams simply had no answer to the power and pace of his play.

In the quarter-finals Eusebio was unstoppable, pulling off a one-man rescue act after Portugal went 3-0 down against North Korea after just 20 minutes.

The Koreans were blown away by a four-goal display from Eusebio as the Portuguese won 5-3.

He scored his ninth of the tournament in the third-place play-off win over the Soviet Union. He finished his 64-cap career having accumulated 41 goals for Portugal.

He also earned European football’s Golden Boot award twice and was Portugal’s top scorer every season between 1964 and 1973. He helped Benfica to 11 league championships and five domestic cups.

Married with two daughters, in retirement he became an ambassador for Benfica and the Portuguese football federation.

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