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Legendary Portugal striker Eusébio received the UEFA President's Award for 2009 last night – and declared himself proud to receive the prestigious accolade.
The Mozambique-born frontrunner, whose exploits for SL Benfica and Portugal in the 1960s and 1970s made him one of the star players in world football, was presented with the award by UEFA president Michel Platini before the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second-leg match between Benfica and Hertha BSC Berlin at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica in Lisbon.
"I am very touched by this award," Eusébio said. "I am a person of few words, but I am honoured to collect this award. The first player to receive this [from Michel Platini] was my childhood hero Alfredo di Stéfano, then there was another great player – Bobby Charlton – so it's a great honour for me." Eusébio, who scored more than 700 goals for Benfica, and 41 in 64 games for Portugal, thanked the UEFA president and other guests who were assembled to witness the presentation.
Michel Platini spoke of his pleasure in giving the award to Eusébio, and recalled in particular the centre-forward's early career. "That fine Benfica team was the only team that could measure up to the great Real Madrid in the early 60s. That team had a hero – his name was Eusébio, he came from Mozambique and he became famous as the Pantera Negra [or Black Panther].
"Eusébio's worldwide reputation began in May 1962 in the European Champion Clubs' Cup final against Real Madrid," the UEFA president added, remembering the then 19-year-old's exploits. "Eusébio scored two goals and gave a superb exhibition, showing all the skills which made him popular – astonishing speed and a powerful shot." The UEFA president described Eusébio as a glory of Benfica, Portugal, Europe and Africa.
Benfica's current players, who reached the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League with a 4-0 success over Hertha, paid a fitting tribute with their display on the pitch. "It's an honour to play for a club where a great player like Eusébio played," said defender Luisão. "It was a deserved award for him, because he was one of the greatest players of all time." Forward Javier Saviola took up the same theme: "We all feel very proud to represent such a great club where great footballers of the past such as Eusébio have played."
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