Black Pearl hoping Portuguese can rid themselves of 1966 and all that

Pirate Irwin

BERLIN, June 30, 2006 (AFP) – Portugal’s World Cup quarter-final with England may give Sven-Goran Eriksson the chance to avenge the Euro 2004 defeat but for Portuguese footballing legend Eusebio it represents a possibility of revenge 40 years on from his adopted country’s most crushing defeat.

The ‘Black Pearl’, as the Mozambique-born striker was known, has been to the Portuguese what Diego Maradona has been to the Argentinians at this World Cup, a motivator from the sidelines.

It may have been England who broke Portuguese hearts in 1966 when they beat Portugal 2-1 in the semi-finals and went on to win the tournament but it was Eusebio who was the star of the tournament.

He top-scored with nine goals, including four in the remarkable 5-3 victory over North Korea when they trailed 3-0 at one point, and such was his lustre that a waxwork of him was immediately installed in Madame Tussauds in London.

Now, however, all he can do is sit and watch as the team commonly known as ‘The Brazil of Europe’ try to set aside once and for all their tag of under-achievers and land the biggest trophy of them all, first of all by beating England in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday.

Eusebio, his country’s record scorer until he was overtaken by Pauleta last year, is confident that the Portuguese can step up to the plate at last.

"I have a gut instinct that Portugal are going to go that extra mile further than we did in 1966," said the 64-year-old, who was moved to tears after watching the 2-0 group stage victory over Iran.

"I can sense this feeling of confidence, not complacency certainly, but genuine optimism that at last that bridge is going to be crossed.

"It will be ironic in a way that it will be the first major finals with most of the ‘golden generation’ gone," added Eusebio, referring to the Portugal youth world champion team of the early 90s which had players like Rui Costa, Fernando Couto and Luis Figo, although the latter is still there.

For the players and firebrand Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari there is no mistaking the value they put on having Eusebio around the camp and handing on some motivational advice.

"He is quite rightly judged to be Portugal’s greatest ever player and was party to the greatest as yet moment in the country’s footballing history," said Scolari.

"What he has to say is invaluable to the players, because he is an idol to most of them and also a large reason why they took up the sport.

"I have seen them take on board what he has to say and it has certainly helped in building up their self-belief."

Eusebio acknowledges, however, that for all his advice and encouragement there is nothing to be done once the players are out on the pitch and he knows only too well how hard defeat can be, a point he has impressed on them.

"The crushing feeling I felt after the England match was unimaginable. Having come within sight of making the greatest final in the sport and to lose left me completely devastated.

"I just hope that I have conveyed that to the players and it will only serve to get them even more determined to avoid that feeling."