Pitchside Europe

On this day: Benfica’s ‘Curse of Bela Guttman’ begins with loss to Milan in European Cup


Benfica were reputedly struck by the fabled curse of Bela Guttman after losing the first of eight consecutive European finals on this day in 1963.

The Portuguese champions, who had won the previous two European Cups under their sacked former manager, were beaten 2-1 in the final by AC Milan at Wembley.

Guttman, who was fired in 1962 after demanding a pay rise, responded by saying: “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup.”

And the words of this man, who won two leagues and also signed the team’s greatest player Eusebio during his three years in the job, have haunted the club ever since.

The most recent defeat came just last week, when Benfica lost the Europa League final on penalties - prompting some to wonder whether the side would ever get over the curse

But back in 1963, few people could have imagined Benfica’s dominance – having broken Real Madrid’s hegemony – would be so short lived.

Indeed, that year’s European Cup final, filmed by British Pathé, started well for the young team built by Guttman, a Hungarian Jew whose brother died in the Holocaust.

The unstoppable Eusebio, who scored 317 goals in 301 appearances for the Lisbon side, scored first with an impressive flying kick in the 18th minute.

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Benfica had chance after chance but could not extend their lead in what is now remembered as one of the greatest and certainly most competitive finals.

Meanwhile Milan began making opportunities for themselves – and had their own secret weapon in Brazilian striker Jose Altafina, who scored 120 goals for the club.

Supplied in the midfield by Gianni Rivera and Giovanni Trapattoni, who went on to become one of Seria A’s greatest managers, he repeatedly threatened.

Altafina finally put Milan level in the 58th minute after powering into the back of the net from just outside the area.

Eleven minutes later, he put the Rossoneri ahead after sweetly sidestepping Benfica keeper Costa Pereira following a dash from near the half-way line.

Minutes later, Gina Pivatelli almost put Milan 3-1 ahead after impressively dribbling past the opposition and Benfica never looked like scoring again.

The side that had beaten Barcelona 3-2 in 1961 and crushed Madrid 5-3 in 1962 looked a shadow of their former selves.

And, despite Guttman returning to Benfica in 1965 for one season, his apparent curse has never been lifted.

They were runners up again in 1965, 1968 1988 and 1990.

Shortly before that last occasion Eusebio, who died earlier this year, even prayed at Guttman’s graveside in Vienna in a bid to stop the curse.

But it was not enough to prevent a second famous defeat by AC Milan, this time losing 1-0 to the Italians.

Benfica have also been runners up three times in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, most recently losing the 2014 final against Sevilla on penalties.

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