MUHAMMAD ALI, PROBABLY THE greatest boxer of all time--and some would say the greatest sportsman ever, came over to England twice to stop Henry Cooper and Brian London in defence of his world heavyweight crown. Garry Sobers, the greatest cricketer of all time, was there as well. His flashing bat put English bowlers to the sword, and his brilliant bowling and sharp catching, sent their batting crumbling, as the West Indies under his leadership powered around the country to win the Test Match series. It was a time of heroes.
But Eusebio's exploits at the 1966 Fifa World Cup surpassed them all. It was meant to be Pele's year--but it wasn't. The Brazilians were expected to stroll to success. That was the trouble. Their opponents did an early "hatchet job" on them by injuring some of their key players. So, the Brazilians went out in the first round.
Pele had been the hero of the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, and would be very much so again in 1970, but not this time. It was the under-valued Portuguese who played the brilliant, eye-catching football (in the manner of the Brazilians themselves), and Eusebio was their star!
Portugal won all three of their matches in the preliminary round. Eusebio did not score as they defeated Hungary, a powerful side at that time, 3-1 and he netted only once in the 3-0 win over Bulgaria, both at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Then came the match against Brazil--and Pele--in front of 62,000 spectators at Goodison Park, Liverpool on 19 July 1966. Eusebio scored after 27 minutes to put his country 2-0 up, and, after the Brazilians had pulled one back, he made victory certain with a second goal in the 85th minute.
Portugal were through to what promised to be an easy quarter-final engagement against North Korea, the minnows of the tournament, on the same ground on 23 July.
Yet, as the crowd (just short of 52,000) knew, the Koreans needed watching because they had already dismissed highly-favoured Italy from the competition. Now they needed watching, too, for their goal-scoring brilliance. In just 22 minutes they struck three goals past the startled Portuguese. Another giant-killing exploit was on the cards.
It needed a giant of the game to stop them, and he duly appeared. Eusebio scored his first goal in the 27th minute and the second (a penalty) in the 43rd minute to take the Portuguese into the interval at only 2-3 down.
In the second half, he cut loose by scoring a third goal in 56th minute and his fourth (a penalty) in the 59th. It sent the Koreans reeling towards eventual defeat by 3-5. Eusebio's performance had indeed the killer punch, the knockout skill of Muhammad Ali, and the boundary shots of Sobers.
There should have been a happy ending to the story, but it wasn't to be. In the semi-final Portugal faced England, the home team, in front of a 95,000 partisan crowd on 26 July at Wembley Stadium. The match shouldn't have been played there. It was scheduled for Liverpool, where the Portuguese felt already at home: however English officials--perhaps with an eye to maximise crowd capacity with the host nation involved--moved the match to Wembley. England were growing in confidence as the competition progressed. Their restrained, controlled football offset the brilliance of their opponents. …