At the time, it was customary to say and write that the world’s great teams took their test seriously, of the utmost demand, when they set foot on British soil. It’s all said. It was up to Benfica, still with a short European history – eliminated in the first round of the 1957 European Cup, against Sevilla, and despite two Latin Cup finals, the 1950 (won) and 1957 (lost) – head now to the other side of the English Channel to compete with the Heart of Middlothian, Scottish champions, for the passage to the next stage.
The reds had not yet imagined that the trip to Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, would become part of an enormous epic, the epic of winning the first European Cup. At the moment, the balance was being made about the value of the Scottish champions, the Heart of Midlothian Football Club, better known by the affectionate diminutive of Hearts, as its fans treat it. He was never a bogeyman, the club’s greatest successes are lost in the oblivion of the end of the 19th century and, just to see how the memories always bring something curious to the surface, the last title of champion of Scotland was won, precisely, in the year 1960, the one in which he faced Benfica.
The Lisbon team participated in the competition for the second time. And he would win it, in the Berne final, against Barcelona, by 3-2. On 29 September, Tynecastle Stadium filled up to host the first leg of the first round. In the 36th minute, José Águas put the national champion in front, but the game would, in general, be for the weak, much more fought than played. However, the greater quality of the Portuguese was not questioned by anyone, not even the local press, as can be seen in this sentence by Hugh McLvanney, editor of The Scotsman: “When we think about what Águas and his companions can do in Lisbon, in the second game, we understand that the Hearts defenders don’t feel relaxed at all”. After the victory in Edinburgh (2-1), Benfica even promised a rout of the braves in Luz but it didn’t go beyond 3-0. The Hearts defenders’ knees shook but didn’t bend. The team maintained its dignity.
in edinburgh Let’s continue, then, in Scotland, Benfica’s first place of visit to the United Kingdom, a country in which it is precisely to fulfill its pre-season internship and therefore justifies this evocation. Hearts coach Tommy Walker left Tynecastle with a sense of accomplishment: “Nothing to do. We lost against a great team, Benfica, but which, in my opinion, is not at the level of Real Madrid”. Real – winner of the five previous editions of the European Cup! The terror of Europe! He would have to give up his title to Benfica in the two years that followed and many people of Tommy’s opinion would change their minds along the way.
Benfica’s second goal was scored by José Augusto (at 74m), Alex Young would reduce it to 80. Béla Guttmann was aware of the complications that the game had raised: “We came to think that the draw could be a good result for those who still have the second leg in Lisbon to play. But we managed to overcome ourselves and things went well for us and we ended up winning quite naturally. I expected more from this Scottish champion. Hearts seems to be having a bad time, with several players out of shape. But even if until the second game they recover their level, I am absolutely convinced that we will win again, this time on our field”. Was right. José Augusto (2) and José Águas addressed the matter again. And Benfica had successfully completed its first trip to the country of football.