Tottenham host Benfica on Thursday having waited for over half a century to get revenge against the Portuguese giants.
It has been 52 years ago, to be precise, since Spurs hearts were broken by the famous Eagles of Lisbon in the 1961-62 European Cup semi-final, in two strirring encounters that have lived long in the memory at White Hart Lane
Benfica were defending champions of Europe, having ended Real Madrid’s monopoly of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament by defeating Barcelona in the previous year’s European Cup final. That 1960-61 season had also seen Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham create English football history by winning the League championship and FA Cup double – a feat so elusive in the 20th century that, before Spurs achieved it, many felt it was impossible.
Moreover, since those impressive triumphs, further world-class talent had been added to both squads, with the emergence among Benfica’s ranks of the sensational Mozambique-born forward Eusebio, and the acquisition by Spurs of England’s goalscorer-supreme Jimmy Greaves, rescued from his Italian nightmare by AC Milan by Nicholson.
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Guttmann felt Tottenham represented Benfica’s most formidable obstacle so far, saying: “I saw Spurs beat Dukla [4-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals] and I believe all round that they are better than us. We must win by at least three goals for safety. Our problem is how to achieve those goals.”
Tottenham had also eliminated Gornik 10-5 and Feyenoord 4-2, while Benfica had progressed by beating Austria Vienna 6-2 and Nuremberg 7-3.
After just 20 minutes, the north London club found themselves 2-0 down, as first Jose Aguas and then Jose Augusto took advantage of slack defending to score. Between those two strikes, Jimmy Greaves – who had been ineligible for Tottenham’s European games until this semi-final because of the timing of his transfer from Milan – was aggrieved to have what looked a good goal disallowed.
His team-mate Bobby Smith did reduce the arrears with a 54th-minute header from captain Danny Blanchflower’s cross, but 10 minutes later Jose Augusto nodded home his second from an Antonio Simoes corner to restore Benfica’s two-goal advantage.
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Consequently, Benfica took a somewhat controversial 3-1 lead to White Hart Lane for the second leg two weeks later. Yet it wasn’t the three-goal cushion Guttman had wanted and Tottenham had already clawed back a two-goal deficit, against Gornik in the preliminary round.
With ‘Glory, Glory’ ringing out from the vast majority of the 65,000 fans packed into the Lane, and Tottenham’s famous ‘Angels’ parading a banner that proclaimed ‘Lisbon Greaves Tonight’, the atmosphere was crackling with expectation. Yet the visitors stunned Spurs by extending their lead within the first quarter of an hour. Jose Aguas left the home defence standing as he stole in to make it 4-1 on aggregate.
To widespread disbelief, Greaves had yet another effort wrongly chalked off for offside as the officials struggled to keep up with the striker’s lightning movement. However, parity was achieved on the night when Smith lashed the ball venomously into Benfica’s net in the 35th minute after receiving a sublime pass from John White.
Spurs hopes soared further when White was sent tumbling in the area by Mario Coluna and Blanchflower coolly converted the subsequent penalty. With Tottenham now just one goal down on aggregate and with 40 minutes left on the clock, they surged forward at every opportunity, inspired by the indefatigable Dave Mackay.
Chances came and went as both posts were struck and Greaves and Cliff Jones were denied. Almost at the death, Mackay let fly and saw his effort crash up off the bar and into the crowd behind the Park Lane goal.
It had been a mighty effort from the English champions, but Guttman’s side managed to keep them at bay to reach their second successive final. A disconsolate Greaves opined: “I reckon the Swiss referee, Muellet, refereed us out of the final.” Nicholson was frustrated, too, revealing that his exhortations to his team to slow things down and play their normal game had not got through to them in such a torrid atmosphere.
Benfica went on to prove their pedigree by disposing of Real Madrid in the final to retain the Cup – Eusebio’s late double eclipsing an earlier hat-trick by Madrid’s Ferenc Puskas in a classic 5-3 showpiece.
There would be heartache for the Portuguese champions against Milan 12 months later, though. By then – after they’d retained the FA Cup by beating Burnley in the 1962 final – Spurs underlined their quality by thrashing Atletico Madrid 5-1 in Rotterdam to win the 1963 Cup Winners’ Cup final and become the first English club to lift a European trophy.