Benfica - Barcelona
The 1960/61 season saw an end to Real Madrid’s domination of the European Cup. With exiting football played by an surprisingly young team, Benfica were able to secure the prestigious trophy with an 3-2 victory over Barcelona in Bern’s Wankdorf-stadium. Benfica’s inspirational club president, Maurício Vieira de Brito, had almost not lived to see his club achieve it’s victory, having suffered a heart attack during the second half of the thrilling match.
Bern, May 31st, 1961
(Final European Cup)
When the Benfica players returned to the dressing room after having lifted the European Cup in triumph, they found Vieira de Brito lying on the massage table, motionless. Some people had seen him grabbing for his heart a few times during the game, but the match was too exiting for anyone to pay real attention to Vieira de Brito’s plight, and no-one knew how he had ended up in the dressing room.
For a few minutes the players stood silently around the table, while Mozambique born midfielder Mário Coluna waived his drenched shirt at the president, hoping that cool air might do some good. Then the Benfica president opened his eyes, and was presented with the trophy his players had just won.
“What a privilege to have lived to see this day.” Vieira de Brito is reported to have said. “My dear Benfica, the strongest club in Europe. Now dying wouldn’t be all that terrible.”
Benfica Captain José Águas lifts the European Cup in triumph
Vieira de Brito’s reign as Benfica’s club president had started in 1957. The club won the Portuguese league that year, and the new president was determined that Benfica should make an impression on the fledgling European Cup tournament. Much to his chagrin however, the club found themselves being ousted in the preliminary round of the 1957/58 tournament by Spain’s Sevilla FC, and, to make matters worse, failed to retain their league title. When the club again failed to clinch the league title during the 1958/59 season, Vieira de Brito gave Brazilian coach Otto Gloria his marching orders.
He decided to appoint the 59-year old Hungarian Bela Guttmann, who by that time already had a long coaching career behind him that had seen him ply his trade in countries as diverse as Austria, Hungary, Holland, Brazil, Portugal, and Italy, as Gloria’s successor. Guttmann was given carte blanche by the wealthy Vieira de Brito when it to came to bringing in players to reinforce the team. However, the Hungarian chose to only buy two players, defender Germano and winger José Augusto. He also added two players from the youth squad to the first team, Neto and Cruz. Under Guttmann’s guidance Benfica adopted a positive approach to football, playing a more attacking game than they had under the Brazilian Gloria. The shift in tactics paid dividends as Benfica found themselves winning the 1959/60 league title.
Back in Europe
To Vieira de Brito’s delight Benfica were back in Europe, and this time he was not to be disappointed with his teams performance. In the preliminary round Guttmann and his men made short work of Scotland’s Heart of Midlothian, brushing them aside with an 5-1 aggregate victory over the two games (1-2 away and 3-0 at home). Although they were able to at least win their home game, Ujpest Budapest faired little better against the team from Lisbon in the first round proper. Having emphatically lost the first encounter 6-2, their 2-1 victory in Budapest was at best the equivalent of an consolation goal. If anything, quarter-final opponents Aarhus GF were even more out of their depth than Hearts and Ujpest had been. After having already lost the first game in Lisbon (3-1), the Danish side were soundly beaten at home by the Portuguese champions (4-1) to produce an 7-2 aggregate.
It was unlikely that semi-final opponents Rapid Wien would allow themselves to be brushed aside that easily. Rapid had participated in all but one of the tournaments five previous editions and had generally acquitted themselves well. They had won a flurry of Austrian Championships in the 1950’s, and were widely expected to give Benfica a real run for their money. In fact the first match, played on April 26th in Lisbon, turned out to be just as one-sided an affair as Benfica’s previous home games had been. Rapid defended in numbers throughout the game, hoping to steal a result but failed miserably as Benfica found the net three times, Coluna, Aguas and Cavem doing the honours.
Rumble in Vienna
Benfica’s impressive victory was not enough to convince Guttmann that the return leg was just a formality. Rapid had once beaten the mighty Real Madrid 3-1, so in Guttmann’s opinion might well still be able to turn things around with their home-crowd behind them in Vienna. Guttmann therefore decided to field a somewhat more defensive line-up in the second match, played on May 4th. As the teams reached the interval without any goals having been scored, Guttmann’s tactics seemed to be paying off. When Aguas put the visitors ahead halfway through the second half, it seemed to be clear sailing for the side from Portugal. However, when Rapid produced an equaliser the Austrians decided to stage a death-or-glory fight back. Cheered on by their 62,000 strong support, they pounded away at the benfica defence, hoping to win the match at least.
As a goal failed to materialise, frustration among the Austrian players and fans grew. Two minutes from time, one of the Austrian forwards, Dienst, went down in the penalty area. English referee Reg Leafe, convinced that Dienst had taken a dive, refused to award a penalty. All hell broke lose with the Rapid players berating the referee, and dozens of fans streaming onto the pitch. Benfica’s young midfield player Cruz, who was supposed to have committed the foul on Dienst, was knocked to the ground. The Austrian police found themselves unable to restore any sort of order, and even an desperate plea over the public address system for the fans to behave themselves by Rapid captain Hanappi fell on deaf ears. In the end Leafe was left with no other option than to end the game, making Rapid Wien - Benfica the first ever European Cup match to have been abandoned because of crowd troubles.
“You should have let them have their penalty,” Guttmann is supposed to have said to the referee after the match, “It would have saved us a lot of trouble, and it wouldn’t have helped them reach the final anyway.”
“Even if a team were leading by a hundred goals to nil,” Leafe is said to have replied, “I would still not grant their opponents an undeserved penalty.”
The organising committee decided to let the 1-1 stand as final result, and Benfica found themselves the fist ever Portuguese European Cup finalists. They were to face Spain’s Barcelona. The Catalonians’ entry into the final had have been less impressive than Benfica’s, going through on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate draw with Germany’s Hamburger SV. However Barcelona might have been justified in feeling that it was they that were most entitled to the trophy after doing (in the first round proper) what no team had been able to do in the previous editions of the tournament, knocking out 5 times winners (and arch rivals) Real Madrid.
The Benfica team took nothing for granted in the run up to the final, that was to be played in Bern, resorting to that age-old and trusted way of placating the football-gods: superstition. They insisted, for example, on staying in the same hotel in the Swiss village of Spiez where the German national team had stayed the night before beating Hungary in the final of the 1954 World Cup. When there weren’t enough rooms available for the team, Guttmann resorted to offering other hotel guests expensive gifts if they would agree to vacate their rooms. And when defender Germano wanted to shave of his beard, after repeatedly having it pulled by Rapid players in Vienna, his team-mates begged him not to change it.
Guttmann meanwhile seemed to be of the opinion that more was called for than strict adherence to the laws of superstition. “Only by listening to me, will you win this final”, he is reported to have told his team on the eve of the match. Modesty was hardly one of his more pronounced traits. When asked by a Swiss reporter if he agreed that a coach can only ever be as good as the team he is able to field, Guttmann replied indignantly. He asked the reporter if he thought it would make no difference if a great orchestra is conducted by any old klutz or by a renowned conductor. When the reporter was forced to agree that would in fact make a difference, Guttmann rested his case.
On May 31st 1961, a total off 50,000 spectators flocked to Bern’s Wankdorf-stadium to watch the sixth European Cup final. Things did not get off to a good start for Benfica, with Barcelona taking the lead in the 20th minute though a Kocsis header, but the team didn’t panic and ten minutes later Aguas produced an equaliser. Only minutes later an horrendous blunder by Barcelona goalkeeper Ramallets gifted Benfica the lead.
Now it was Barcelona’s turn to stage a fight-back. Led by their two Hungarians, Kocsis and Csibor, who desperately wanted to avoid losing another final in the stadium where they had lost the World Cup seven years earlier, Barcelona set out to score an equaliser. But no matter how hard they tried, the team’s forwards found themselves unable to get the better of the Benfica defence, and at half time the Portuguese had retained their lead.
When Coluna bagged Benfica’s third goal shortly after the break, the team form Lisbon appeared to have things all wrapped up. But Barcelona refused to resign themselves to a defeat and went looking for the goal that would see them back in the match. In the 67th minute a Kocsis header hit the post, as did a Kubala drive three minutes later. Barcelona’s tenacity was finally rewarded 15 minutes from time, when Csibor made it 3-2. Shortly afterward the Hungarian hit the post, the third time Barcelona were denied by the woodwork. It is distinctly likely that it was during this period that Benfica’s club president suffered his heart-attack.
It wasn’t just the woodwork that was thwarting Barcelona’s efforts. Benfica’s charismatic goalkeeper Costa Pereira rose to the occasion, pulling off a number of great saves to ensure that Benfica made it to the final whistle with their lead in tact. It was up to captain José Aguas to receive the trophy, cheered by Benfica's supporters and his fellow players alike.
Dawning of a new era?
Though Barcelona gave them a good run for their money in the final, there was no denying that, looking back on the whole campaign, Benfica had won the European Cup in style. And they had done so with a team that didn’t even feature the player yet, that was to become universally recognised as Benfica’s biggest ever star: Eusebio.
Benfica’s 1961 victory may not have been the start of a Madrid-like era of complete dominance, but the club from Lisbon established itself as a force that would play a prominent role in the European football scene for years to come. An even more impressive victory was forthcoming 12 months later in Amsterdam, when an Benfica featuring Eusebio beat a Puskas and Di Stefano led Madrid 5-3 in a game that is universally recognized as the best ever European Cup final. Benfica would reach the final of the European Cup an impressive three more times in the six years that were to follow, though never actually winning the prestigious trophy again. Their dominance of the Portuguese league during those years probably gives a better impression of the strength of the team, than their unfortunate record of losing finals.
Back in Lisbon, Benfica’s victory sparked four days of celebration in which even club president Vieira de Brito took a modest part. He retired from his position as president soon afterwards, undoubtedly on the strong advise of his doctors.
Benfica - Barcelona 3-2
(Bern, May 31st, 1961)
20. Kocsis 0-1
30. Aguas 1-1
32. Ramallets 2-1 (o.g.)
55. Coluna 3-1
75. Czibor 3-2
: Costa Pereira; João, Neto, Germano, Angelo; Cruz, Augusto; Aguas, Santana, Coluna, Cavem.
: Ramallets; Foncho, Gracia, Vergés, Gensana; Garay, Kubala; Kocsis, Evaristo, Suárez, Csibor.