Eusebio back in Amsterdam to inspire Benfica
Ever since Eusebio scored two goals to lead Benfica to its last European title, the Portuguese team has endured enough final heartache to fill an evening of mournful fado songs in a Lisbon bar.
A 20-year-old Eusebio's goals helped Benfica to a 5-3 victory over Real Madrid in 1962 to make it back-to-back European Cup triumphs, but that night in Amsterdam was the last time the Portuguese powerhouse won a European title - losing six since.
So Eusebio flew with the team to the Netherlands on Tuesday as an inspirational talisman for Wednesday's Europa League final against Chelsea, a club which only has to look back to last season for its last European triumph - winning the Champions League on penalties over Bayern Munich.
''Obviously we respect Eusebio the king,'' Benfica captain Luisao said. ''It's very important for players knowing Eusebio and the legend he has even today in Benfica ... and to travel with him and share with him such moments is important for the team.''
Eusebio's presence in Amsterdam harked back to the golden years of Benfica and Portugal.
He scored 320 goals in 313 league matches and 41 times in 64 international appearances for Portugal, including nine at the 1966 World Cup to earn the Golden Boot award as Portugal finished third. A bronze statue of the Mozambique-born player known as the ''Black Panther'' stands outside Benfica's stadium in Lisbon.
Coach Jorge Jesus said he believes his squad has developed to the point that it can recapture the winning touch of the Eusebio-inspired Benfica teams of the early `60s. The team reached the quarterfinals at last year's Champions League, losing to eventual winner Chelsea.
''Benfica is a club that throughout its history has had an excellent performance in European champions' club competitions. It created a name for itself, like Benfica, Real Madrid, Milan. In the `60s and `70s those were the teams,'' Jesus said. ''It hasn't been the same over last years, but Benfica has recovered its lost prestige.''
The Lisbon club is still challenging for three titles this season - the domestic league and cup and the Europa League - although it surrendered its lead in the league at the weekend with a 2-1 loss to title rival FC Porto.
Luisao said the team immediately put that loss behind it to switch focus to the Amsterdam final.
''We trust the work we do, and since we finished that game we've been concentrating on this big final,'' he said. ''We don't have to look back to a game that's finished.''
He also is looking forward to meeting up again with former Benfica teammates David Luiz and Ramires.
''David Luiz is having an excellent career and I'm a great fan of Ramires ... so I'm very happy to play against them tomorrow in such a big game,'' Luisao said.
Benfica's Dutch winger, Ola John, said the team also had consigned the defeat to Chelsea in last year's Champions League to history.
''Revenge? There's no revenge here. I think we just play for ourselves, the best is the best,'' he said.
Chelsea will be playing without one of its best players as coach Rafa Benitez revealed that Belgium playmaker Eden Hazard would not be fit in time. Inspirational center back John Terry also remains an injury doubt and will be assessed on Wednesday.
Jesus is just concentrating on getting the good times rolling again at the one-time European power.
''At Benfica, we want to create international prestige like we had in the `60s and `70s,'' the coach said. ''That is a proof of the quality of our work.''