With picturesque castles, chapels and monasteries, and enchanting art galleries, museums and parks, Lisbon was an enjoyable city for tourists to visit in the early 1960s. Not, though, when Benfica were playing hosts.
As Águias (The Eagles) boasted a 100 per cent record at the Estadio da Luz in both the league and the European Cup in the 1960/61 season, and the following campaign they had the only unbeaten home record in the Portuguese top flight and won all their home matches in the continent’s top club competition, which they won for the second time in succession by beating a Real Madrid side including Messrs Gento, Di Stefano and Puskas.
That triumph earned Benfica a clash against Santos in the 1962 Intercontinental Cup final, with the team who seized more points over two legs (two for a win, one for a draw) becoming the undisputed club kings of world football. However, even though a Pele brace and a Coutinho goal earned the Brazilians a 3-2 success at the Maracana, meaning they required only a draw in Lisbon to lift the trophy, they still remained the underdogs. For if Fernando Riera’s team won the second leg, a deciding game would unfold in the same venue, their very own fortress, a few days later.
Fifty years ago to this Thursday, 73,000 supporters packed the Estadio da Luz wholly expecting Mario Coluna, Simoes, Santana, Eusebio and Co to force a play-off. In that year’s European Cup, after all, Benfica had drawn away to Austria Vienna in the last 16 only to cruise through with a 5-1 home win; they had recovered from a 3-1 defeat away Nuremberg by thrashing the Germans 6-0; and they had beaten reigning English double winners Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 in Lisbon to go through to the final 4-3 on aggregate.
The match immediately swung from end to end, and it was Lula’s charges who drew first blood, with a sliding Pele diverting into the net Pepe’s fizzing drive across goal. Pele then exquisitely tricked his way past four opponents, only to have his appeal for a penalty waved away. Rather than lament that decision, the Santos No10 employed a hypnotising feint to escape one challenge, skipped past another two, and fired a stinging left-foot drive just inside Costa Pereira’s post to make it 2-0.
O Peixe (The Fish) were dominating and, with Calvet and Mauro negating the threat of Santana and Eusebio, Pele almost scored another breathtaking goal before the teams went in at the break. Benfica were two goals down on the night and three overall. They nevertheless took confidence from the fact that, less than six months earlier, they had scored three unanswered second-half goals to stun the mighty Real Madrid 5-3 in the European Cup final.
That confidence would last just three minutes. Pele danced his way past four opponents and to the touchline, before cutting the ball back to give Coutinho the simplest of tap-ins.
Pele then completed his hat-trick – and typically it was in astonishing style. Collecting the ball in midfield, he nutmegged Eusebio, used samba dancer’s feet and weightlifter’s upper-body strength to get away from another three Benfica players and, after his initial shot was saved, he poked home the rebound. Not even the home supporters could resist applauding the genius of a man just shy of his 22nd birthday.
Pepe, an incessant threat throughout, capitalised on a goalkeeping error to make it 5-0 on 77 minutes and two late Benfica consolations, from Eusebio and Santana, did little if nothing to dampen the Santistas’ euphoria.
Santos’s 5-2 victory at Benfica remains arguably the greatest performance in Intercontinental Cup history. Pele’s exhibition that evening is perhaps the capstone of what was an extraordinary club career.
Couto Pereira summed it up memorably: “I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.”