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Born: Tuesday 6 August 1935, Inhaca, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique)
Position: Inside Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Mozambique-born midfielder Mário Coluna was the captain of the talented Portuguese team which qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1966 and went on to reach the semi-finals. Spending most of his club career at Benfica, he was an important member of the team which dominated Portuguese club football throughout the 1960s and also made a significant impact on the European stage.
Coluna was born in Inhaca on 6 August 1935, in what was at the time Portuguese East Africa. As a youngster he was a keen all-round sportsman and in addition to football, also took part in boxing, basketball and athletics, particularly excelling in the high jump. Most of his early sporting experiences came with Desportivo de Lourenço Marques (now Desportivo de Maputo), a club with which his father was closely involved.
Playing predominantly at inside-left, Coluna attracted the attention of a number of the top clubs in Portugal, not least when he scored all seven goals in a 7-0 win over a touring South African side. Those goals were especially significant as he had been banned from playing when Desportivo had toured South Africa themselves, owing to that country's apartheid laws. Porto, Sporting CP and Benfica all bid for his signature and although Sporting offered more money, at his father's encouragement Coluna decided to join Benfica.
Arriving in 1954, he was seen as part of the club's attempts to break the dominance of a Sporting side who had won seven of the last eight league titles. Although he struggled to break into the first team, coach Otto Glória eventually decided to play him in a deeper role and it was there that Coluna became part of the backbone of a great Benfica team. His accurate passing, superb vision and ability to read the game made him ideally suited to the role of midfield playmaker.
The impact of Benfica's new signings, including Coluna, was immediate. They edged out Belenenses to win their first league title in five years, before beating Sporting 2-1 in the cup final to complete the double. Coluna's contribution was recognised when he was awarded his first international cap in a 3-0 defeat to Scotland in May 1955. Benfica won another double two years later and claimed the cup again in 1959, but it would be during the 1960s that both they and Coluna enjoyed their greatest success.
With his stamina and strength allowing him to control all areas of the play, Coluna was the team's undoubted leader on the pitch. Benfica won another league championship in 1960 and a year later, having retained their title, reached their first European Cup final. Facing Barcelona in Bern, Coluna saw his team come from behind to lead 2-1 and early in the second half, he got on the scoresheet himself to extend the lead. With Barcelona getting a goal back late on, his goal proved ultimately to be the winner as Benfica triumphed 3-2 and became the first team other than Real Madrid to win the competition.
At the beginning of that season, a teenage Eusébio had arrived at Benfica and Coluna took the youngster under his wing, helping him to develop into one of the game's finest talents. In 1962, having already won the Portuguese Cup, Benfica reached the European Cup final again where they faced Real Madrid. They trailed 2-0 and 3-2, but again Coluna was on target early in the second half, this time to level the scores. With two goals from Eusébio, Benfica went on to win 5-3 and retain their European title.
Defeat by AC Milan a year later denied them a third consecutive title, with another final appearance two years later ending in defeat at the hands of Internazionale. There was no end to their domestic domination however, with a hat-trick of league titles being won from 1963 to 1965, the second of which forming part of yet another league and cup double. It was also in the mid-1960s that a decade into his international career, Coluna finally got the chance to appear in a major international tournament.
He had already seen Portugal fail to qualify for two World Cups and two European Championships since making his debut in 1955, but in October 1965 a goalless draw with Czechoslovakia sealed their place in the World Cup for the first time ever. Although not the team captain going into the finals in England, Coluna took over the armband when regular captain Germano was left out of the opening game against Hungary and he held onto it throughout the tournament.
With Coluna leading the team from the heart of the midfield, Portugal proved to be one of the revelations of the tournament. They swept through their first round group with three wins out of three, before a stunning comeback from 3-0 down in the quarter-final against North Korea set up a last four meeting with England. Despite a late Eusébio goal, Portugal were beaten 2-1 but rallied to beat the Soviet Union to finish third, a position which remains their best ever World Cup performance. Coluna's performances were good enough to earn him a place in the tournament's all-star team.
Portugal were not able to follow up that success to become an established international force, as they failed to qualify for the 1968 European Championship. Coluna's international career came to an end in a disappointing 4-2 defeat to Greece in a World Cup qualifier in December 1968, in another ultimately unsuccessful campaign. Despite those international disappointments however, Benfica remained dominant at club level.
Beginning in 1967, Coluna led the club to another hat-trick of league titles, including the fifth double of his career in 1969. He appeared in the European Cup final for the fifth time in 1968, but having forced extra-time against Manchester United, Benfica conceded three quick goals to lose 4-1. In the 1969-70 season, the 34-year old Coluna started to appear less frequently in the first team and at the end of that campaign, he left the club after 16 years. He had played almost 700 senior games for Benfica, winning ten league titles, seven Portuguese Cups and two European Cups.
Not ready to retire just yet, Coluna moved to France to play for Olympique Lyonnais, although he did make a brief return to Benfica for a tribute match against a World XI which featured many of the top stars in the game at the time. He had been due to play in part of the game for each team, but having made an appearance in the Benfica team, could not bring himself to turn out against them and chose to sit out the rest of the game.
Coluna retired after a short spell as player-coach at SC Estrela and when Mozambique became independent in 1975, made the decision to return to the land of his birth. In a short coaching career in Mozambique, he led Textáfrica to the league title as well as winning both the league and cup with Ferroviário in the early 1980s. One of the most famous sporting figures in the country, Coluna has also served as president of the Mozambique Football Federation and the country's Minister of Sport, as well as helping to set up an FIFA-supported academy for young footballers in Maputo.
References (all accessed 23 October 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 23 October 2012 15:49