After being Europe’s unluckiest club in 2013, Benfica have picked themselves up to win four league titles in a row, including the double in 2017. The Eagles also reached another Europa League final in 2014, after the 93rd-minute disappointment of the year before. Porto’s monopoly of the Primeira Liga has been well and truly broken.
Rui Vitória’s side lost the battle to make it five in a row in 2018 – but four is already one better than the consecutive titles achieved by the most famous Benfica side in history, the one starring all-time club legend Eusébio in the 1960s.
Relatively untried Bruno Lage then stepped out of Rui Vitória’s shadow to take over halfway through the 2018-19 campaign to claim a 37th league title, his side scoring over 100 goals in the process. Nearly a quarter came from Swiss international striker Haris Seferović.
Benfica were formed in 1904. Adopting red shirts and the motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’, ex-pupils of a school in Belém led by Anglophile Cosme Damião had met at the Franco Pharmacy. One fraction represented a smaller club with an eagle badge but no ground; another fraction had access to the village pitch at Benfica.
Thus was born the most successful club in Portuguese football, and one of Europe’s most endearing and enduring names. Soon there was rivalry as well, as contemporary football aficionados formed Sporting.
Playing first for local then national titles, Benfica became a multi-sport operation, the football team sharing domination of the Portuguese game with Sporting.
Both built impressive arenas in the mid-1950s, on the eve of European competition, Benfica’s in the area of town known as Luz. When word reached Lisbon of an African player with a shot like a rocket, Benfica beat Sporting to his signature, bending Damião’s age-old club rules to allow a foreigner to sign. The rest is history.
With Eusébio, Benfica first dominated Portugal, then Europe. The Eagles broke Real Madrid’s monopoly on the European Cup in 1961 and 1962, and made three more finals that decade. In the 1970s, Eusébio’s Benfica still dominated at home but, as an international force, their moment had gone. The club banked all on European success, expanding the Estádio da Luz and bringing in coach Sven-Göran Eriksson.
Three more European finals came and went. The debt-ridden 1990s were bookended by a complete revamp of the Estádio da Luz for Euro 2004, Eusébio’s statue placed outside. Meanwhile Porto had gained a stranglehold on the domestic game. In 2012-13, Benfica took them to the last game of the season, only to lose, the same as they lost the cup final to Vitória Guimarães and the Europa League final to Chelsea thanks to a 93rd-minute header by Branislav Ivanovic.
After the pain of Amsterdam, Jorge Jesus led his men to the treble in 2013-14. With Slovene international keeper Jan Oblak brought in halfway through the season, Benfica let in only 18 goals in 30 league games. Up front, Lima got the lion’s share of the goals. Oblak was then unable to stop Sevilla’s four penalties in the Europa League final of 2014.
The goals of Brazilian striker Jonas were the key to the league triumph of 2014-15, though Benfica flopped badly in the Champions League and manager Jesus was not retained. A youth coach at Benfica in the mid-2000s, Rui Vitória then led the Eagles to a third straight title in 2016, away form a major factor and Jonas still way ahead in the scoring charts.
A more measured campaign in 2016-17 saw reliable midfielder Pizzi as the key influence, the double achieved with a 2-1 win over Guimarães at the Estádio Nacional.
Known by locals as ‘A Catedral’ and by foreigners as the ‘Stadium of Light’, the Estádio da Luz first saw the light of day on December 1 1954. Originally holding 40,000, increasing gradually to 70,000, the Estádio da Luz ballooned in the 1980s to an official capacity of 120,000 but big matches saw more than 125,000 squeezed in before individual seating was installed in the mid 1990s.
Soon afterwards, with Euro 2004, the decision was taken to knock it all down and start again. Project Luz was the responsibility of Damon Lavelle and his HKO Sport team of architects, who provided Sydney with its Olympic Stadium. Lavelle remained true to the concept of the original Luz, keeping its red arches and allowing for a capacity of 65,000.
Around it is a modern complex of shops, restaurants and a health club. Eusébio’s statue remains sacrosanct and the stadium bars are second-to-none.
The stadium comprises four rings, above three storeys of underground parking. There are health clubs on levels two, three and on the bar-lined fourth, and a business centre on level 3. Benfica’s hard-core No Name Boys occupy a corner of Sagres stand behind the goal. The local Diabos Vermelhos fans occupy a corner of the Coca-Cola end facing it, away fans the opposite corner of the same stand. The sideline stands holding the prime seats have changed sponsors and are now named meo and tmn.
The closest metro station of Colégio Militar/Luz on the blue line is now part of a mall, the Centro Comercial Colombo. You’ll see the signposted stadium through the palm trees as you exit. Bus No.767 connects with Campo Grande, and Sporting.
Ticket prices start at €22.50 for a seat on level 0 or 3 in the Sagres or Coca-Cola ends, where it’s €30 in level 1. A good seat in the meo or tmn stands is €50. Customers must register to buy online through the club website.
There’s a ticket office on Praça Cosme Damião nearest the Colombo mall and one on the other side of the stadium before the Benfica Megastore. These open 12.30pm-7.30pm daily and from 10am on match days. Tickets are otherwise available at the Megastore itself.
A Megastore do Benfica (daily 10am-11pm).is between the Sagres and meo stands to the left of the Eusébio statue in the main entrance. Amid the mass of red and white, look out for Eusébio’s authorised biography (€8.99), fat candles with the Benfica logo (€5.50) and the Benfica lifejacket (€6.99).
You’ll find another official store (daily 10am-10pm) in the city centre at Rua Augusta 147-155, close to Baixa-Chiado metro station.
Museum & Tour
You have the choice of a visit to the museum (€8), the stadium tour (€10) or enjoy both (€14, daily 9am-8pm). The tour of the stadium can be done at your own pace. You’re encouraged to download the app but struggle to keep up with real-time visiting – and it has too many virtual aspects to it anyway. In no doubt, however, are the knowledge and friendliness of the guides who wait for you at specific points around the stadium. (There’s even one or two Sporting fans among them!) The tour includes full access to the stands, the pitch and away dressing room – the home one is reserved for Benfica players only – but you can get pitchside. Braver visitors can meet the club mascot eagle. The interactive stuff is also fun.
As for the museum, you could spend hours here delving into their forensic history of one of the decorated clubs in Europe. As soon as you walk through the doors, you know you are in the midst of greatness. Dazzling silverware is everywhere to be seen, not least at the entrance which celebrates the R3conquis7a, the club’s recent and record 37th title. The Eusébio section is fascinating and one aspect of the virtual reality and holograms that really works.
More than 50 outlets, tastefully themed panoramic restaurants and Brazilian cookouts – at Benfica, the fan really is spoiled for choice. Approaching Eusébio’s statue at the main entrance, on the left the Sala Convívio (Mon-Fri 3pm-11pm, Sat 8am-3pm, Sun 8am-7pm) overlooking the training pitch serves parents watching their young Benfiquistas.
Upstairs in the commercial centre housing the Megastore, the 3o anel (Mon-Sat 9am-11pm, Sun 11am-4pm) serves Portuguese specialities in three rooms, one covered in huge Eusébio-era photographs where veterans gather on card-playing afternoons. Across from the front door, Chimarrão is a Brazilian rodízio, an all-you-can-eat carnivorous overkill of steak, ribs, chicken hearts and chouriço. For fast food, bifanas and the like, there’s the Red’s Café by the Media Markt store.
Pride of place, at gate 10/11, goes to the Catedral do Cerveja perhaps the finest bar/restaurant of any stadium in Europe. It would certainly win by design. As you enter, a cathedral of natural light falls upon two vast, but vast, black-and-white montage murals of Benfica history. Upstairs, stark white juxtaposes with striking art on a vague sporting theme. A Sagres beer tap (this is the Sagres end) wills you to the bar while the adjoining restaurant draws you to a panoramic view over the stadium, aka the ‘Catedral’. Quality fare at Burger King prices runs from a simple crème de camarão soup (€3) to a camarão frito (€12). Daily-changing menus include the “Penalty” at €8 and the “Fora de jogo” at €6.