Saturday, February 13, 2010

And brief departure to the other Iberian country, Portugal. Never among the big top championships, but with a good reputation because of the European success ob Benfica and Sporting in the first half of the 1960s. Golden period, more or less ending with the World Cup 1966, where Eusebio and Co thrilled the spectators. However, even Benfica in their best days was looked at with skepticism in Europe and the club never established the magical image preserved for Real, Inter, and Milan in public memory, save for Eusebio. The Portuguese league inspired even less enthusiasm and actually rightly: it was typical two-club dominated league at best – Benfica and Sporting provided for rivalry, splitting fans in Lisboa in the classic groups of ‘people’ vs ‘the state’, but on the pitch it was mostly Benfica anyway. A long hegemony, but by the end of the 1960s the squad was aging, including Eusebio, and nobody was emerging to replace him. Surely Benfica were still difficult to eliminate in Europe, but eliminated they were at least after the 1/8 finals. As for Sporting – hardly anybody paid attention to them. Which is the very reason for mentioning Portugal now: Benfica were still good enough to collect one more title, but Sporting grabbed the cup – pretty much the most they were able to do against Benfica.
One more title and this was not all: Benfica finished 18 points ahead of the second placed team. They did not lose a single game – 28 wins and 2 ties. Perfect home record – 15 wins from 15 games. They scored 101 goals and received only 13. The numbers were impressive – actually, a record unmatched in Europe. Fantastic team? Numbers and names suggests so: Eusebio, Simoes, Nene, Jorge (later highly respected coach), Humberto, Henrique, and the new promise Diamantino. A good mix of old stars, players in their prime, and young talent. Yet… Portuguese football was in decline. Benfica reigned supreme at home, where the opposition was weak. They were not that strong in the European tournaments. And the big names were not so big when playing for the national team.