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Updated on July 10th 2021, 7:55:38 am

The 1960s: SL Benfica’s Golden Age

SL Benfica was the squad of the early 1960s thanks to the tactical genius of Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann and the outstanding skill of Eusébio. They won back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962, a first in Portuguese football.

SL Benfica was the squad of the early 1960s thanks to the tactical genius of Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann and the outstanding skill of Eusébio. In the 1960s, SL Benfica reached half of the European Champion Clubs' Cup finals, displacing Real Madrid CF as the dominant force in club football. They won back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962, a first in Portuguese football, and finished second in the Intercontinental Cup in 1961 and 1962, as well as the European Cup in 1963, 1965, and 1968. Benfica is ranked 9th in the IFFHS Top 200 European Clubs of the 20th Century, and 12th in FIFA Club of the Century.


Coach: Bela Guttmann

Trophies & Achievements: 2 European Cups (1960–61, 1961–62), 7 Primeira Ligas (1960–61, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69), 4 Taca de Portugal (1961–62, 1963–64, 1968–69, 1969–70), 3 European Cup finals (1963,1965 & 1968)

Star Players: Eusebio, Coluna, Augusto, Aguas, Torres, Costa Pereira


Madrid won the first five European Cups, but it was Barcelona, not Benfica, who had the honour of being the first team to knock out the Merengues from European play in the 1960/61 European Cup first round. In the Berne final, Benfica defeated Barcelona 3-2. The Eagles may not have reached their pinnacle until the next year when they defeated Madrid 5-3 in the final. For the Spanish side, Puskas scored a hat-trick, but Benfica fought back, coming back from 2-0 down to tie the game at 3-3 before Eusebio sealed the deal with goals in the 64th and 69th minutes, removing any doubt that Benfica was the best team in Europe.


With the exception of the Latin Cup in 1950, Benfica's European success eluded them until an intriguing Hungarian manager, Bela Guttmann, took over. Guttman was a renegade character, boisterous and vocal at times, but credited with assisting a slew of clubs throughout the course of his career. Benfica won the European Cup against Barcelona in 1961 (3–2) and Real Madrid in 1962 (5–3), led by coach Béla Guttmann, who had been signed by Mauricio Vieira de Brito. As a result, Benfica competed in the Intercontinental Cup, finishing second to Penarol in 1961 and Santos in 1962.


During Guttmann's time at Sao Paulo, he introduced the 4-2-4 formation, which allowed his team to attack and defend with equal aplomb, and which was eventually used by the Brazilian national team in their 1958 World Cup success. Even though Guttmann left in 1962, his ideas remained. Guttmann had assembled a brilliant side to put his theory into practice even before Eusébio made it to the first team, with goalkeeper Costa Pereira, central defender Germano, midfielder Mário Coluna, wingers Antonio Simes and José Augusto, and predatory forward José Guas all revelling in the team's devastating simplicity.


Following a disagreement with the club's board, folklore has it that he cursed the club, predicting that they would not be European champions for another 100 years. Since then, Benfica has lost eight continental finals. Guttmann died at the age of 82 in 1981. Benfica went on to lose three more European Cup finals, to Milan in 1963, Inter in 1965, and Manchester United in 1968. Benfica has never won a European final, with the most recent of numerous losses coming in the Europa League final against Sevilla in 2014. When Benfica lost their last Champions League final to AC Milan in 1990, Eusebio prayed at his former coach's tomb and requested for the curse to be lifted, but it was in vain.


Eusébio is still Benfica's most famous player. The teenage attacker, who was born in Mozambique to an Angolan mother and a Mozambican father, joined Benfica from city rivals Sporting CP. Eusébio's victory in the world's best club championship in 1962 was his lone triumph, but his control, physical strength, and thunderous finish distinguished him as someone very exceptional indeed. Eleven national championships, five Portuguese Cups, and 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal demonstrate his ability. After a stellar first season in which he helped his team reclaim Europe, he was named runner-up in the Ballon d'Or in 1962 before winning it in 1965 while assisting his team to three consecutive domestic wins in 1963, 1964, and 1965.