Soccer great Eusebio dies at age of 71

LISBON, Portugal — Eusebio, the Portuguese soccer star who was born into poverty in Africa but became an international sporting icon and was voted one of the 10 best players of all time, died at the age of 71, his longtime club Benfica said.

He died Sunday, the club announced on its website, without providing further details. Eusebio died at home of heart failure, said his biographer, Jose Malheiro.

Eusebio was admitted to hospital several times over the past year for the treatment of heart and respiratory problems.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain who plays for Real Madrid, commented on his Facebook page, “Always eternal Eusebio, rest in peace.”

Former Portugal captain Luis Figo, the 2001 FIFA world player of the year, tweeted, “The king!! Great loss for us all! The greatest!!”

“On this sad day of (Eusebio’s) death … I prefer to look upon him as immortal,” Chelsea’s Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho said.

Eusebio da Silva Ferreira became affectionately known as the Black Panther for his athletic prowess and clinical finishing that made him one of the world’s top scorers during his heyday in the 1960s.

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was to lead Portugal to a third-place finish at the 1966 World Cup, but his agility and speed made him one of Europe’s most dangerous forwards for most of a career that lasted two decades.

He was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1965 as Europe’s player of the year and twice won the Golden Boot — in 1968 and 1973 — for being top scorer in Europe. According to football’s world governing body, FIFA, he scored 679 goals in a total of 678 official games.

The Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half-mast. The Portuguese Football Federation ordered a minute’s silence ahead of Sunday’s Portuguese Cup games.

A bronze statue of him, poised to kick a ball, stands outside Benfica’s Stadium of Light where fans began laying flowers after his death was announced.

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