'Black Panther' dies at 71

Eusebio (AFP)
Eusebio (AFP)

Lisbon - Portuguese football legend Eusebio, who was the top scorer in the 1966 World Cup, has died on Sunday at the age of 71 years, his former club Benfica have confirmed.

Regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, the player known as the "Black Panther", died after suffering cardio-pulmonary arrest early on Sunday morning.

"Eusebio showed signs of fragility lately, but I didn't expect this at all," said Joao Malheiro, author of the player's biography "Eusebio - my story", who had spoken to him last week.

The player's remains were taken during the day to the Luz stadium (Stadium of Light) in Lisbon where Benfica fans had already begun to flock to lay flowers and pray on front of Eusebio's statue on hearing the news.

Fans will be able to pay their respects as his remains will be lying in repose in the stadium's chapel from 1730 GMT on Sunday.

The funeral mass will be celebrated in the Seminary Church near the stadium on Monday at 1600 GMT and the footballer will be laid to rest afterwards at the Lumiar cemetery, in the city's northern suburbs, Benfica said in a statement.

In line with Eusebio's wishes his coffin will before the funeral ceremony, around 1330GMT, be carried around the Luz stadium, where his fans can pay their final respects.

The Portuguese government have already decreed three days of national mourning, with flags in Lisbon to fly at half-mast. The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) said there would be a minute's silence ahead of Sunday's Portuguese Cup games, as tributes flowed in for the player.

"Portugal has today lost one of its most beloved sons, Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. The country mourns his death. The country is officially in mourning," President Anibal Cavaco Silva said.

"Everyone remembers the day he left the field in tears, crying for Portugal. Eusebio's tears are today ours," he added referring to Eusebio's tears after losing the 1966 World Cup semi-final to England.

"Football has lost a legend," FIFA president Sepp Blatter wrote on Twitter. "But Eusebio's place among the greats will never be taken away."

"The king! Great loss for all of us! The greatest!" wrote former Portuguese international Luis Figo, who retired in 2009 with a national record of 127 caps, while current Portugal captain Ronaldo wrote: "Always eternal #Eusebio, rest in peace."

The Mozambique-born striker made his name at Benfica, winning 11 league titles and one European Cup during a 15-year spell there. He also won two Golden Boot awards as Europe's leading goalscorer.

Recruited aged 19 by the Lisbon club for his exceptional technical and physical qualities he helped the club win the 1962 European Cup against the Real Madrid of Argentine legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

"He was not only one of the greatest figures of football but also of Portugal. Eusebio is Portugal," Chelsea's Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho told RTP.

"I grew up with Eusebio and Amalia Rodrigues (singer who died in 1999), ... as the great symbols of Portugal. They are simply immortal," he said.

"There are princes of football but Eusebio was in the gallery of kings," former Benfica coach Toni told TSF radio.

In addition to his 11 league titles, Eusebio won five Portuguese cups in his 15 years at Benfica and was Portugal's top league scorer between 1964 and 1973.

He scored 733 times in 745 professional matches.

Despite his scoring record, however, his only appearance at a World Cup finals was in 1966 in England.

"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.

He helped Portugal however take third place in the tournament, where he was top scorer with nine goals. In total he scored 41 goals in 64 appearances for Portugal.

"Eusebio will always be with us," said Portuguese football federation president Fernando Gomes, pointing out the the player had passed away during the FPF's centenary year when a ceremony had already been planned to honour the former international.

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