Who cares about the also-rans? Nobody remembers the losers, right? Wrong. They do when they were as talented as… Portugal 1966. Or Hungary 1954.
Why were Portugal great in 1966?
Portugal of 1966 were not so much about a great team, as a great player: Eusébio. Reminiscent of Maradona some 20 years later, Eusébio single-handedly carried his country through the tournament. If Eusébio, the reigning European Player of the Year, had started the tournament with a big reputation, he finished it with something approaching God-like status.
Taking on a Brazil side that included Pelé in the first round, Eusébio nabbed the headlines from under the nose of the famous number 10, with a brilliant brace of goals in a 3-1 win. Portugal outscored its three group opponents 9-2 and qualified for the quarter finals. The best however, was yet to come.
Faced with the tournament’s surprise package North Korea, the Portuguese fell 3-0 down after just 22 minutes of the quarter final. Sensing disaster, Eusebio started to play. Four goals later he had turned the match on its head, with Augusto adding a fifth late-on to complete a 5-3 victory.
So what went wrong?
Portugal’s dream was then destroyed by hosts England. The semi final was to take place at Goodison Park in Liverpool, where Portugal beat North Korea three days before, and stayed over for the semis.
Just 24 hours before kick-off, the World Cup organisation decided to move the game to Wembley, London. Not surprisingly close to the hotel and the training ground of the English national team. Instead of a last training for the game, the Portuguese spent the better part of the day before the crucial semi final in a train.
‘Jogo das Lágrimas’
For ninety minutes during the game, England midfielder Nobby Stiles was given the job of marking the prolific Eusébio. His tough performance resulted in Eusébio being practically nullified for the entire game.
That was as good as it got for Portugal, as even Eusébio couldn’t save them when they came up against England in the semi-finals, a pair of Bobby Charlton goals sending the hosts through.
While home fans rejoiced in a 2-1 victory, many shared Eusébio’s tears, sorry to see ‘The Black Pearl’ on a losing side as the sheer gusto of his play had lit up the tournament. This historical game will always be remembered as ‘Jogo das Lágrimas’ (The Crying Game).
What happened next?
Consolation came by way of a bronze medal after a 2-1 win against the Soviet Union in the 3rd/4th place play-off. Eusébio also won the Golden Boot after netting nine times, and the hearts of all, leading to a waxwork being created of him at Madame Tussauds.
1966 was the first and last time seeing Eusébio playing on a World Cup. He never took part in another finals, as the Portugal sides he later played in bowing out in the qualifying stages in both ‘70 and ‘74.