One tinge of sadness is that Eusebio wasn't here to see Portugal finish the journey he started

He was their first great superstar and put Portugal on the footballing map

BY Raf Diallo 15:08 Monday 11 July 2016, 15:08 11 Jul 2016

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, receives an award for his 50th match for the national soccer team from Portuguese soccer legend Eusebio prior to their Euro 2008 Group A qualifying match against Armenia Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007 at Leiria stadium in Leiria, northern Portugal. (AP Photo/Steven Governo)

Before the turn of the Millennium, Portugal was always an odd case in international football.

This was a nation that had provided the platform for European Cup-winning clubs like Benfica and FC Porto.

Yet aside from semi-final runs at the 1966 World Cup and Euro 84, they had underwhelmed completely.

Incredibly, when the 2002 World Cup kicked off, they had qualified for the same number of World Cups as Ireland and just two more European Championships.

Starting with the golden generation of the 1990s however, they put themselves back on world football's map, regularly qualifying for major tournaments once the year 2000 hit and have now managed to do what they should have achieved in 2004 as hosts: Winning a major tournament.

The remains of the Portuguese soccer legend Eusebio are carried inside a coffin during his memorial tribute at the Benfica's Luz stadium in Lisbon, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Thousands of people have turned out to pay tribute to Portuguese football star Eusebio after his coffin was put on public display. Dignitaries and fans, some weeping, filed past the coffin Monday at the Lisbon stadium of Benfica, Eusebio's longtime club. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

They had come close to doing that with their first superstar. Eusebio had netted with fearsome regularity for Benfica in the Portuguese league and European Cup but what he did in 1966 was jaw-dropping.

As Portugal raced to third place in their first ever major tournament appearances, the Mozambique-born Eusebio plundered nine goals, including four against North Korea in a 5-3 quarter-final comeback from 3-0 down.

It was an individual show of force that the late, great forward would relive with Baddiel and Skinner many decades later.

By the time he retired from internationals in 1973, he had set an all-time mark of 41 goals as Portugal's greatest goalscorer. Pauleta would break that record in 2005 but the true heir to the late legend's legacy is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has extended the Portugal international goal record to 61.

Eusebio sadly passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 71, with Ronaldo scoring twice that weekend for Real Madrid and paying tribute in the aftermath.

"I dedicate these two goals to you Eusebio but in fact you were the one who scored them. You'll always be in my heart," were Ronaldo's heart-felt words.

And as Portugal bask in the glory of Euro 2016, they will remember Eusebio's role in putting Portugal on the football map.


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