SL Benfica are holding a weekend-long party to mark their centenary - but there are mixed feelings at Portugal's most successful club after a decade of mixed fortunes.
Much to celebrate
Since their 30th Portuguese championship in 1993/94, they are yet to win another title, and again this season cup competitions remain their only realistic chance of silverware and reducing their financial headaches. Still, with a brand-new 65,000-seat Estádio da Luz built for the UEFA EURO 2004™ final and a record of honours few clubs in Europe can match, there is much to celebrate.
Grupo Sport Benfica were founded on 28 February 1904, before merging with Sport Clube de Benfica and taking their current name on 30 June 1908. Lisbon champions for the first time in 1909/10, their contest for regional supremacy with Sporting Clube de Portugal escalated when a nationwide competition emerged in the 1920s, becoming the present-day league in 1938.
European Cup triumph
Sporting had the better of the next two decades, but that changed in 1961 when a Benfica team coached by Hungarian Béla Guttmann defeated FC Barcelona to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Then arrived a shy Mozambican-born 19-year-old who was to become a legend.
Guttmann first heard the name of Eusébio in a hairdresser's salon in Lisbon. In the chair next to him was São Paulo FC's coach, whose team were touring Portugal. He told Guttmann about a brilliant footballer he had seen in Mozambique. Within a week Guttmann had bought Eusébio, who was then playing for Sporting's nursery club, but was hidden away in an Algarve fishing village by Benfica on arrival in Portugal until the arguments between the clubs died down.
Within a year Eusébio lined up in the 1961/62 European Cup final against the Real Madrid CF side of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. At half-time a Puskás hat-trick had put Madrid 3-2 up, but after Benfica had levelled, Eusébio scored on 65 and 68 minutes to seal a superb 5-3 win against his idol Di Stéfano.
In Eusébio's 15 seasons at Benfica, only two produced no major honours - 1965/6, when he went on to inspire Portugal to the 1966 FIFA World Cup semi-final, and his 1974/75 swansong. From 1963/4 to 1967/68, in 1969/70 and 1972/73, Eusebio was Portugal's leading scorer - and won the first European Golden Shoe in 1967/68 and then in 1972/73. When he left Benfica, his time had produced eleven Portuguese league titles, five Portuguese Cups, one more European Cup and a further three final appearances.
This was the era which cemented Benfica's reputation as one of the legends of European football, along with the likes of Madrid and AC Milan. However, with Eusébio gone, Benfica found it hard to maintain their dominance, as FC Porto emerged as a well-organised unit who seem set for their 13th title in two decades this season.
Still, Benfica remain a potent force. They won five championships in the 1980s and two in the following decade, and in 1995/96 took their tally of Portuguese Cups to 23, still ten ahead of anyone else. Benfica also reached their sixth and seventh European Cup finals in 1987/88 and 1989/90, losing to PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan respectively.
So they have earned their weekend of festivities, from Friday night's dinner including the presentation of a cake with 100 candles, to fireworks after Sunday's match against Moreirense FC. However, the birthday present Benfica really want would be to wrest back the mantle of Portugal's No1 club from Porto.
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