“My secret? Before a game I smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves and sunk a nice vodka to tone my muscles.”
That ritual was to what Lev Yashin attributed his miraculous saving of 150-plus career penalties – consequentially more than any other top-level goalkeeper can boast.
But if the Black Spider was customarily ice-cool seconds before the above photo was snapped in the bronze-medal match at the 1966 FIFA World Cup™, the Black Panther curiously wasn’t – despite the fact he’d masterfully converted two penalties in Portugal’s extraordinary 5-3 victory over Korea DPR in the quarters, and another past the great Gordon Banks in the semis.
For Eusebio knew he was facing a spot-kick taker’s nightmare – and in front of 88,000 witnesses at Wembley. He’d played with Yashin three years earlier, at the same London ground, alongside the likes of Josef Masopust, Raymond Kopa, Francisco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano, Uwe Seeler and Ferenc Puskas. It was for a Rest of the World XI against England in celebration of the Football Association’s centenary.
“We’d been practising before the game – shots, penalties – and he’d been saving everything,” recalled Eusebio. “He was the greatest goalkeeper in history, and he was easily the greatest at saving penalties. Taking a penalty against Yashin wasn’t like taking one against anybody else. Just seeing him being in between the posts put many great, confident players off. I knew I had to strike a perfect shot.”
As, habitually, Eusebio bounced the ball en route to placing it on a spot of white paint, his nerves were palpable. As he retreated, his head was bowed. Jose Augusto, sensing jitters, even gave his Portugal team-mate an encouraging pat.
Fortunately for the Benfica striker, a ‘perfect shot’ is what he produced, employing every bit of his weightlifter’s leg power to rocket the ball into the roof of the net – as the above picture depicts.
Yashin and Eusebio immediately hugged. Not only had they initiated a friendship on that wet Wednesday at Wembley in 1963, but so sovereign was the Muscovite at repelling penalties that, when he did concede one, he often congratulated his conqueror.
Portugal finished the game having won 2-1. Yashin and Eusebio finished it with another embrace. It was not their last.
Eusebio, alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Pele and other luminaries, partook in Yashin’s testimonial in front of over 100,000 fans in Moscow. The Dynamo demi-god visited the Benfica icon in Lisbon. They saw one another infrequently, but when they did it was always uplifting.
In March 1990, before Dnipro hosted Benfica at the Meteor Stadium in the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final, it was announced over the loudspeaker that Lev Yashin had passed away. The cameras kept flicking to a member of the Portuguese club’s delegation. Tears trickled down his face. It was Eusebio. He’d lost a friend. He’d never lose the memories, though – one of which was that penalty at Wembley.
Did you know?
Yashin once said: "The joy of seeing Yuri Gagarin flying in space is only superseded by the joy of a good penalty save.” Gagarin was a pioneer of the Soviet Space Program, whose satellite Sputnik II launched in November 1957, seven months before the World Cup began in Sweden. That was the first of three editions of the competition at which Yashin participated. At the last, he gave his training sweatshirt to his friend and former France goalkeeper Francois Remetter. You can see it – and so much more – at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) 12. Mai 2016