To date this world cup will be remembered not for its breath-taking football, but perhaps for the tantrums and disappointments of so many talented but overpaid footballers.
The French footballer’s mutiny has caused a national scandal and shame. The Italian nation are asking themselves, how they, the world cup holders have been held to two draws, the last one by New Zealand who are team of third division players and part timers? Our own team England seem utterly incapable of putting together a string of passes, and to make matters worse, our star player Wayne Rooney, and other players seem to be in psychological meltdown.
When Portugal play North Korea today we should be reminded how the game and players used to be. The date was 1966. The communist North Korean’s had just beaten the Italians – a defeat that still rankles many Italians to this day – and the Koreans, a team of committed amateurs, faced the mighty Portuguese who boasted among its ranks one of the greatest players in the world at that time: Eusebio.
Within 30 minutes the North Korean’s hard work, guile and endeavour had given them a 3-0 lead. Portugal looked down and out, until that is their talisman Eusebio played a role both individually and collectively to galvanise one of the greatest comebacks in world cup history. Eusebio scored four goals and set up the fifth in a display of breath-taking brilliance. Although the Portuguese went on to lose the semi-final to England that match, for all the right reasons, will live on as long as football exists.
Extract from, ‘Soccer: sun and shadow’ by Eduardo Galeano:
“He was born to shine shoes, sell peanuts or pick pockets. As a child they called him ‘Ninguem’: no one, nobody. Son of a widowed mother, he played soccer from dawn to dusk with his many brothers in the empty lots of the shantytowns.
He set foot on the field, running as only someone with police or poverty nipping at his heels can run. That is how he became champion of Europe at the age of twenty, sprinting in zigzags. They called him ‘The Panther’.
In the ’66 World Cup, his attacks left adversaries scattered on the ground, and his goals from impossible angles set off never ending ovations. Portugal’s best player ever was an African from Mozambique. Eusebio: long legs, dangling arms, sad eyes.”
Our star studded players today, including the present Portuguese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, could learn the lesson of humility from Eusebio and both teams in that famous match of 1966.
By Simon Woolley