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The greatest teams of all time: Benfica 1960-62

The Greatest: The combination of Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann tactical acumen and the extraordinary ability of Eusébio made SL Benfica the team of the early '60s.

Eusébio lets fly in the 1962 European Cup final
Eusébio lets fly in the 1962 European Cup final ©AFP

SL Benfica reached half of the European Champion Clubs' Cup finals in the 1960s and took over from Real Madrid CF as the pre-eminent force in club football. UEFA.com dissects another team that changed football.

The golden age
"He is gold, he is gold," Benfica's new coach Béla Guttmann is reported to have said when he first clapped eyes on the Eagles' new teenage sensation Eusébio. The Mozambique-born 'Black Panther' was not the only genius in the Eagles' camp – he did not feature in the side Guttman led them to European Cup glory in 1961 – but Eusébio came to symbolise the side that won eight Portuguese titles from 1960-69, and were twice crowned champions of Europe under the Hungarian tactician, reaching three further 1960s finals following his departure.

Winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1965 – and runner-up in 1962 and 1966, when he was also top scorer at the FIFA World Cup finals – Eusébio turned heads; England striker Sir Bobby Charlton said of him: "Eusébio was one of the best players I had the privilege to play against. He was a true sportsman. Benfica had a great reputation at the time." José Mourinho considers him "immortal". However for all of the brilliance of the man who won the Golden Boot as Europe's top domestic scorer in 1967/68 and 1972/73, Benfica were not all about Eusébio.

Benfica's 1962 success

The baton handover
Real Madrid CF won the first five editions of the European Cup, but it was FC Barcelona – and not Benfica – who had the honour of becoming the first side to eliminate the Merengues from European competition, in the first round of the 1960/61 European Cup. Benfica beat that Barcelona side 3-2 in the final in Berne.

Arguably, the Eagles did not reach their peak until the following year when they beat Madrid 5-3 in the decider. Ferenc Puskás scored a hat-trick for the Spanish side, but Benfica kept at them, recovering from going 2-0 down to make it 3-3 before Eusébio delivered the coup de grace, with goals in the 64th and 69th minutes removing any lingering doubt that Benfica were the top side in European football.

The game-changing philosophy

"If we do not have the ball, we have to mark; if we have it, we must run into space," said Guttmann as he defined the essence of the Benfica gameplan. "This is the fundamental principle of football. I don't mind if our opponents score three or four goals as long as my team scores four or five."

That philosophy persisted even after Guttmann moved on in 1962 – with the 4-2-4 formation, which the Hungarian had helped to perfect during his time at São Paulo FC in the 1950s – enabling his side to attack and defend with equally panache.

Even before Eusébio made it to the first team, Guttmann had assembled a brilliant side to put his theory into practice, goalkeeper Costa Pereira, central defender Germano, midfield leader Mário Coluna, wingers Antonio Simões and José Augusto, and predatory forward José Águas all revelling in the devastating simplicity of the team's structure.

Béla Guttmann
Béla Guttmann©Getty Images

The tactical genius
An inveterate wanderer who never stayed at any club for long ("the third season is fatal," he allegedly said), Guttmann cut quite a swathe through world football. After an ill-starred spell at AC Milan in the mid-1950s, he spent time at São Paulo then ventured to Portugal, leading FC Porto to title success in 1958/59 before being persuaded to join the Eagles in Lisbon.

It proved to be a match made in heaven – albeit not a long-term arrangement. Guttmann left the club in 1962. According to legend, following a disagreement with the club's board, he cursed the club, saying they would not be European champions for another 100 years. Benfica have lost eight continental finals since. Guttmann died in 1981 at the age of 82.

The star players
"He was the best player of all time," said Alfredo Di Stéfano after Eusébio's death in January 2014. The 1962 success was his only triumph in the world's top club competition, but Eusébio's control, physical power and thunderous finish marked him out as someone very special indeed. Eleven national titles, five Portuguese Cups and 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal give some measure of his skill.

Mario Coluna: 'The Sacred Monster'
Mario Coluna: 'The Sacred Monster'©Getty Images

Mário Coluna: The 'Sacred Monster', the man who captained Benfica from 1953-70, is second only to Eusébio in the pantheon of Eagles legends. Clever and elegant as well as powerful, he was known as 'Mr Coluna' by team-mates as a mark of respect. "Coluna was an example for others, like a father at the head of the table," remembered team-mate António Simões. "He didn't have to say a word for us to understand how he wanted us to behave."

José Águas: Known as 'Golden Head' for his aerial ability, forward Águas enjoyed European success at the very end of his Benfica career, scoring in both of his side's final victories. António Lobo Antunes, one of Portugal's most important contemporary writers, said of him: "He epitomised elegance, intelligence, integrity, talent, and when I thought of becoming a writer, my wish was to be the José Águas of literature."

What they said
Bela Guttman:
"I never found players who felt their shirt so strongly as the ones at Benfica. Even the less talented ones became astonishing and feared footballers."

Pelé: "The modern Barcelona team are like Benfica, Santos, Ajax, Milan or Real Madrid were in their golden eras. Those teams were the best of their age."

Giovanni Trapattoni: "Before Eusébio, Benfica had Coluna, but Eusébio was the best of his time. In those years, people only talked about him and Pelé. With that great Benfica side, Eusébio was one of the best in the world."

José Águas after Benfica's first European Cup success
José Águas after Benfica's first European Cup success©Getty Images