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The Portuguese giants have described the former midfielder as "a genius who magnified football" after he died in his native Mozambique following a battle with illness.

Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira has led the tributes to club legend Mario Coluna, who died Tuesday at the age of 78.

Midfielder Coluna made 677 appearances during 17 seasons for the Lisbon giants, scoring 150 goals and helping them to win two European Cups, 10 Portuguese league titles and six domestic cups.

He also earned 57 caps for Portugal, scoring eight times.

Coluna died in his native Mozambique having been hospitalized since Sunday with a pulmonary infection.

"It is not easy to say goodbye to someone whose life was among the greatest," Vieira told the club website. "Someone whose life path is unique and whose legacy will endure far beyond him. It is said that we are born equal. Untrue! Coluna was born different, for the better, much better.

"He was and will always be a football genius who magnified football and projected Sport Lisboa e Benfica to a global dimension. Coluna gained in life the admiration of those who had the privilege of watching him play, but also the respect and recognition of those who, not having the opportunity to see his football, through reports and testimonies know he was one of the greatest talents of his generation.
 
"Coluna will always be with us. He will be present in our days because he earned that right, with his example and achievements!"
 
Coluna is the second Mozambique-born Benfica hero to die this year following Eusebio’s death in January.

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