Throwback Thursday: Pelé v Eusébio (Autumn 1962)

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The 2015 FIFA Club World Cup is going on right now in Japan. If you haven’t heard much about it, it’s not because you’re living under a rock. The Club World Cup just doesn’t really garner a lot of attention these days. (For North Americans, the tournament being held in Japan and thus meaning middle-of-the-night kickoffs doesn’t help.) It’s seen mostly as some meaningless midseason friendlies, on roughly the same level of prestige as the International Champions Cup held in the US every summer. This is due in no small part to Europe’s dominance since the tournament’s founding in 2000— and barring some massive upsets, Barcelona is expected to cruise through the semifinals against Guangzhou Evergrande and come out on top against River Plate in the Final on Sunday.

For the most part, the Club World Cup hasn’t really lived up to the reputation of its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. That tournament, held between the winner of the European Cup (later the Champions League) and the Copa Libertadores, served as the stage for some of the most explosive club matches in history. There was AC Milan v Estudiantes in 1969, Nacional v Nottingham Forest in 1980, Boca Juniors v Borussia Mönchengladbach, among others. But one tournament stands out by virtue of pitting two legends of the game against each other in their primes.

This week we look back at the 1962 Intercontinental Cup, featuring Santos (led by the inimitable Pelé) and Benfica (headed up by the legend Eusébio).

(For all three videos, Santos is in the light-colored kit while Benfica is in the dark-colored kit.)

The first leg was held in Brazil on September 19th of that year. With a maximum capacity of around 30,000, the Estádio Urbano Caldeira wasn’t quite big enough for such a massive game. The decision was made to stage the match at the stately Maracanã in Rio, where over 90,000 people poured in to watch the European Champions take on the best team in the country and on the continent.

The game itself didn’t disappoint, with Pelé finding the back of the net twice as Santos edged out Benfica 3-2. Despite losing the first leg, Benfica were still the heavy favorites to lift the cup, and with the second leg on their home ground the European Cup holders must’ve felt fairly confident.

If they did, that confidence was greatly misguided. During the second leg held at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon on October 11th, Santos orchestrated a rout. Pelé bagged himself a hat trick, and by the 77th minute the Brazilians found themselves up 5-0. Benfica managed to tack on some consolation goals, with Eusébio scoring his only goal of the tie in the 85th minute and Santana netting another one in the 89th. But the hole was too deep to dig out of. Santos won 5-2 on the day and 8-4 on aggregate.

The highlight of the tie, however, came in the second leg when Pelé straight-up nutmegged Eusébio.

It was a titanic match-up that more than lived up to its billing. Any other year against any other team and Benfica would’ve absolutely lifted the cup. As it is, there’s simply no substitute for having Pelé in your colors.

If you’re up that early (or that late) on Sunday, you can see the final of the current incarnation of this tournament build to its climax as River Plate takes on Barcelona (probably). Kickoff is 4:30am EST on Fox Sports 1.

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