x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Manchester United and Benfica relive a golden game

Tonight's Champions League encounter at Old Trafford is a replay of the 1968 final

Brian Kidd, front, now Manchester City's assistant coach, played for Manchester United against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final.
Brian Kidd, front, now Manchester City's assistant coach, played for Manchester United against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final.

Once, Manchester United and Benfica would have been a Champions League contest to whet the appetite of football connoisseurs around the world, but not any more.

Although the pair are tied on eight points at the top of group C with two games to play, United are favourites to triumph tonight at Old Trafford, having drawn 1-1 in a tepid affair in Lisbon last September.

United's record against the Portuguese giants is impressive, with six wins and a draw from eight encounters - three of them in the 1960s.

Yet it belies the respect and reputation Benfica enjoyed in the 60s when they won the European Cup twice - and would have made it three had it not been for an extra time defeat to United in the 1968 final at Wembley Stadium. Benfica also lost in the final to AC Milan in 1963 and Inter Milan in 1965.

"Portuguese football was going through a golden age," said Brian Kidd, now of Manchester City but an 18 year old in 1968 with his 19th birthday on the day of the final. "Benfica were the best team in Europe in the mid-60s and their players provided the backbone of the Portugal side."

Kidd was so fresh that none of the Benfica players knew who he was.

"Before the final, one newspaper had Eusebio, the 1965 European Footballer of the Year, saying: 'Who's Kidd?'

"I could see where Eusebio was coming from," said the Mancunian. "With all the great names in our side, who was going to be [worried] about me? Yet Eusebio was a hero of mine. I followed Portugal because of him in the 1966 World Cup and watched them train in Manchester and play in Liverpool. I had my picture taken with Eusebio. When my mum passed away a few years ago I found two cases of cuttings that she'd kept, including that picture of me with Eusebio."

Kidd's admiration was based on the all-round brilliance of the team, which teammates such as Paddy Crerand had experienced first-hand.

The midfielder had played against Benfica in 1966, when United took on a side whose European home record read: Played 19, Won 18, Drawn 1, Lost 0. United's 5-1 victory in Lisbon saw arguably George Best's greatest ever performance.

Such was the exalted reputation of Benfica, Matt Busby, the victorious United manager, described the victory as his finest hour.

"It was the greatest Manchester United performance that I was ever part of," Crerand said. "Their side, which provided the majority of the Portuguese national team, remained practically unchanged for years. It was full of great, great players and even though we beat them, our respect for Benfica remained undiminished."

They did not need to do it, but the Benfica players took the United players out after the game for a night in Lisbon. A bond of friendship was cemented and the respect between the two teams was evident two years later at Wembley when they met in the final. And if Eusebio had never heard of Brian Kidd before the 1968 final, he would have known all about him afterwards as Kidd scored on his 19th birthday, United running out 4-1 winners after extra time.

11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport