The army of fans that follow Sport Lisboa e Benfica, the most successful side in Portuguese footballing history, are in no doubt their club fully deserves the nickname *O Glorioso *(The Glorious One). Yet, despite boasting the country's largest supporter base and an estimated 14 million followers across the world, the Lisbon giants have struggled in recent years to recreate their golden era of the 1960s - the heyday of legendary forward Eusebio.
The trophies may not be coming so quickly these days, but the Encarnados remain steeped in tradition. Perhaps the most eye-catching example of this is the club's mascot and symbol, an eagle named Vitória (Victory), which takes flight around the Estadio da Luz in the build-up to every game before landing on a stand bearing the club's crest. Modern legend has it that if the majestic bird of prey circles the pitch twice then Benfica will emerge victorious, while a single lap of the packed stands is an indication that the visitors may be in luck.
Birth of an institution
Benfica owes its beginnings to a group of former pupils of the Real Casa Pía de Lisboa, who founded the club during a meeting held in the back room of a Lisbon pharmacy on 28 February 1904. The new sporting institution's colours were to be red and white, its emblem an eagle (a symbol of independence, authority and nobility) and its motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of One, Many).
Founded as a multi-sports organisation with a social and cultural function, in 1919 Benfica became the first club on the Iberian Peninsula to stage a floodlit match. In the period between the first and the second world wars, the Lisbon outfit grew in popularity, with a total of 41 supporters clubs being set up across the country and many more in the Portuguese colonies.
Making of a legend
The arrival of Joaquim Bogalho as president and Otto Gloria as coach led to the modernisation of the club's structure and a more professional approach, and in 1954 Benfica moved to an impressive new stadium, the Estadio da Luz. That same season, the men in red ended Sporting Lisbon's four-year domination of the league and within a matter of three more seasons they would qualify for the European Cup for the very first time.
This was but the beginning of O Glorioso's golden decade, which saw capacity at their home ground increased to 80,000, an expansion that was entirely justified considering the team's achievements on the pitch. Under the tutelage of the Hungarian Bela Guttmann, Benfica won the Portuguese title in 1960 and 1961, the year in which they registered their maiden European Cup triumph after defeating Barcelona 3-2 in the final. They successfully defended the title the following season when, inspired by two goals from Eusebio, they came from behind twice to defeat the mighty Real Madrid 5-3. On both occasions, however, the kings of Europe failed to add the Intercontinental Cup to their trophy cabinet.
Guttmann asked for a pay rise in recognition of his efforts. Not only was the request rejected, he found himself out of a job as well, prompting him to utter the following words as he took his leave: "Benfica will not become champions of Europe again in the next 100 years." His parting shot has become something of a curse ever since, one that has yet to be broken. In the 46 years since Guttmann's departure the Portuguese giants have contested five more finals in the continent's leading club competition and failed to win one.
The 1970s were a time of national supremacy. The winners of two Portuguese Cups and six league titles in that time, Benfica put together a record-breaking season in 1972/73, winning 28 of their 30 league games, drawing the other two and scoring 101 goals and conceding a mere 13 in the process. In doing so they became the first league champions ever to go unbeaten and those figures have yet to be bettered today.
The decade that followed was one of highs and lows. In two separate spells in charge Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson took the *Encarnados *to a brace of championship crowns and two cup triumphs but was unable to end the European curse, suffering defeat in the 1989/90 European Cup final and the 1982/83 UEFA Cup final.
Benfica's recent history was marked by the tragic death of their Hungarian forward Miklos Feher during a match in 2004. The league title achieved the following season proved the best possible homage to a much-loved player and was the last time the Lisbon powerhouses prevailed on the domestic front.
The retirement of the legendary Rui Costa and his subsequent appointment as sporting director was followed by the start of a new project that has seen Spanish coach Quique Sanchez Flores take up the reins for the season ahead. And, having drafted in experienced internationals Jose Antonio Reyes and Pablo Aimar, Benfica are hopeful of finally unseating Porto from their position as the dominant force in Portuguese football.
The club's futsal team has at least been showing their 11-a-side counterparts the way, winning four league championships, three Portuguese cups and three Super Cups since its creation in 2001/02.
After hosting a grand total of 1,075 matches the old Estadio da Luz was demolished to make way for its replacement, which was opened, under the same name and in time for UEFA EURO 2004, on 25 October 2003. To mark the occasion the home favourites played Uruguay in a friendly and won 2-1.
Built in accordance with the strictest safety regulations, and also known as A Catedral, the stadium has a capacity of 65,000 and hosted the final of EURO 2004, when tournament hosts Portugal were surprisingly beaten by Greece.
The complex comprises two sports halls and a swimming pool, an indication of the multi-faceted nature of the club, which is also represented by futsal, basketball, cycling, rugby and handball teams, to name but a few.