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The Eagles have landed !

The story of the 1967-68 European Cup Match

Glentoran, proud Glentoran, again swamped the Eagles of Lisbon at the Estadio de Luz when they held them to a scoreless draw in that second leg on 4th October. The Glens, who made their headquarters at the resort of Estoril, were in rampant mood. Here again the story is based on my "Telegraph" report. "This was their finest hour. Never have I felt so proud of an Irish League side as I did last night in the Stadium of Light-a floodlit arena which will always be remembered as the scene of Glentoran glory. How superb they all were. How magnificent. How courageous. Trot out all the adjectives and you still would not do them justice."

"The Glens made their European Cup exit with their heads held high- defeated by the rule which specifies that an away goal counts as two. For them it was so near yet so far just as in that first leg. Remember it was not until the last five minutes at the Oval that Eusebio hit Benfica's equaliser-a goal which in the end proved their facesaver.

"Words seem inadequate to describe this fighting show. Eleven heroes who played until they almost dropped off their feet, the perspiration seeping through their shirts. The energy had been sapped from their bodies yet they never relented as the defence withstood everything a struggling Benfica threw at them. They never either became flustered nor overawed. They played it ever so cool, which tantalised the Portuguese, who eventually got the bird from the 50,000 crowd, which included Vince Kowars (Ben Casey) and Diana Dors filming at Estoril.

"Glentoran earned an international reputation during their United States tour, but this night really put them on a pinnacle.

Unhesitatingly, I say this is the greatest-ever achievement by an Irish club in top-class competition. An achievement planned methodically by player-coach John Colrain, that master mind of football and tactician supreme. He laid the foundation-and the players obeyed his command.

"No side in Ireland can operate a defensive system like Glentoran. They have the containment policy down to a fine art. Yet last night they did more than that. The plan was fluid;, enabling attacks to be carried out with speed and penetration. Teenager Johnny Johnston played a key role in this. A youngster of nonchalance who had complete disregard for the big names surrounding him. Cleverly he opened up play with pinpoint passes. Calmly he set his forwards in motion and, with only 15 minutes gone, danced past three opponents before Jacinto pulled him down in the penalty area. He crashed on to the turf at least a yard inside the box, but the Belgian referee, Robert Schaut, awarded a free-kick. How he reached such a decision is beyond me. Even the Portuguese were amazed. A goal then could have worked wonders.

"As it was Glentoran had Benfica unsettled. Where was all the poise, all the class of this team, which has twice won the European Cup? Eusebio attempted to get into the act. So, also, did Simoes, just recovered from a leg injury which sidelined him for four weeks. Jose Augusto had a try, too, but they could not succeed against the Glentoran defence. Indeed, it was two Eusebio free-kicks - one in each half- which provided the real menace. Desperation had entered Benfica's play as the end of the first half approached. Their coach, Fernando Riera, obviously worried by the ineptitude and the inability to con quer this Oval rearguard, shouted instructions from the line which brought a reprimand from the referee.

"Then Benfica were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out. A wall was set up. Eusebio stood well back, raced to the ball and, with one of the hardest shots I've ever seen, cracked it towards the goal. It hit Finlay's chest with a resounding thud and bounced clear. His next effort midway through the second half was in a similar mould but this time the 'keeper caught it at the second attempt.

"Finlay was in an irresistible mood. Every ball was handled with confidence -something which inspired those heroes in front of him. Yes, heroes all in a wonderful team effort which enabled those hundreds of Glentoran fans to sing and dance and wave their green, red and black flags. This was nectar to them. Give them all a five-star billing-Finlay, Creighton, McKeag, Jackson, McCullough, Stewart, Sinclair, Johnston, Morrow, Colrain and Weatherup. Eleven names and a team which wrote a glorious chapter in Glentoran history. "Benfica were disappointing but this was primarily due to the way the Glentoran played them out of the game. It would have filled any Ulster soccer fan's heart with pride to see the way that the Glentoran defence fought. One minute Sinclair was up in attack . . . the next battling it out in his own goalmouth. It was the same with Colrain and Johnston. And through it all little, Tommy Jackson adhered rigidly to his allotted task of marking Eusebio. Not for a long time has the "Black Panther" been so ably policed. Simoes wandered but Col rain had thought of this too. So, in the end, Benfica became frustrated and with a little luck in a quick burst near the finish Glentoran could have snatched a goal in a half hour of extra time.

"To be fair, however, Glentoran had a let-off in the first half, when Simoes was "lifted" by the commmanding solid, no-nonsense McCullough but again, the referee ignored penalty claims, pointed instead to the corner spot. Ac curacy was not a Benfica forte. Jacinto, Eusebio, Nelson, Cavem and Coluna were all wide of the mark-either putting the ball past the upright or over the bar. All were forced to shoot from long range by the Glentoran defence.

"Glentoran directors put the players on a 100 per man winning bonus. They did not triumph but, with due respect, I say that the effort merited some monetary reward. For this was Glentoran's finest hour. Salute those gladiators of the Stadium of Light. Glentoran can grace any company after the most memorable of nights."

Benfica (4-2-4):

Henrique; Cavem, Humberto, Jacinto, Cruz; Graca, Coluna capt., Augusto, Nelson Eusebio, Simones.

Glentoran:

Finlay; Creighton, McKeag; Jackson, McCullough, Stewart; Sinclair, Johnston, Morrow, Colrain capt., Weatherup.

This is an extract from "The story of Glentoran" written by Malcolm Brodie.

 
 
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