S.L. Benfica in European football

Sport Lisboa e Benfica is a Portuguese professional football club based in Lisbon, whose involvement in European competition dates back to the 1950s. As champions of Portugal, Benfica were supposed to participate in the inaugural edition of the European Cup in 1955, but they were not invited by the organizers. Two years later, they made their European debut against Sevilla in the European Cup, on 19 September 1957.

S.L. Benfica in European football
The 1961 and '62 European Cup trophies on display at Museu Cosme Damião
ClubS.L. Benfica
First entry1957–58 European Cup
Latest entry2019–20 UEFA Europa League
Champions League2 (1961, 1962)

Benfica won their first European title in 1961, defeating Barcelona to win the European Cup, and successfully retained the title in the following year after defeating Real Madrid. After that, they appeared in five more finals – 1963, '65, '68, '88 and '90 – but failed to reconquer the title. These consecutive final losses have been attributed to a famous curse by Hungarian manager Béla Guttmann in 1962. Benfica have also played in three UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals – 1983, 2013 and '14 – losing all three.

With 10 appearances, Benfica hold the Portuguese record for most appearances in UEFA competition finals, and the 39 participations in the Champions League (formerly the European Cup) are only surpassed by Real Madrid. Additionally, they are the second most decorated Portuguese club in UEFA competitions, with two titles, and occupy the seventh place at the all-time club ranking.

Brazilian defender Luisão holds the club record for appearances in Europe, with 124 matches, while former Portuguese striker Eusébio is the club's leading European goalscorer, with 56 goals. Benfica's biggest European win is 10–0, which came against Stade Dudelange of Luxembourg for the 1965–66 European Cup, and their 18–0 aggregate win constitutes a European Cup record.


The first continental competition organised by UEFA was the European Cup in 1955. Conceived by Gabriel Hanot, the editor of L'Équipe, as a competition for winners of the European national football leagues, it is considered the most prestigious European football competition.[1] That year, Benfica had won the Primeira Divisão, but the competition organizers selected Sporting CP to take part in the first edition.[2] Another club competition, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, was established in 1955 and contested in parallel with the European Cup. It eventually came under the auspices of UEFA in 1971, which rebranded it to UEFA Cup. Since the 2009–10 season, the competition has been known as the UEFA Europa League.[3]

In 1957, Benfica won the league title and assured their European debut in the 1957–58 European Cup. In the following years, UEFA created additional club competitions. The first, the Cup Winners' Cup, was inaugurated in 1960 for the winners of domestic cup competitions. Established in 1973, the UEFA Super Cup was originally a match played between the winners of the European Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup. Since 2000, it has been contested by the winners of the Champions League (formerly the European Cup) and the Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup).[4]

The Intercontinental Cup was a competition for the winners of the European Cup (the later UEFA Champions League) and its South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. Established in 1960, the Intercontinental Cup was jointly organised by UEFA and the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL). It ran until 2004, when it was replaced by the FIFA Club World Cup, which includes the winners of all six continental confederations' premier club competitions.[5]

European champions and Guttmann's curse (1950–79)

Benfica's first European silverware came in 1950 when, managed by Ted Smith, they beat French side Bordeaux at the Estádio Nacional in Oeiras, Portugal, to win the Latin Cup.[6] Seven years later, the team reached their second and last Latin Cup final, but lost to Alfredo Di Stéfano's Real Madrid.[7] After an unsuccessful UEFA competition debut in the 1957–58 European Cup, where they lost to Sevilla in the initial round,[8] Benfica hired Hungarian manager Béla Guttmann, who led the team to their first European Cup final ever on 31 May 1961.[9] Having overcome Hearts, Újpest Dózsa, AGF Aarhus and Rapid Wien, Benfica faced Barcelona in the final, where goals from José Águas, Mário Coluna and an own goal from Antoni Ramallets helped the club lift its first European Cup.[10] In the following year, already with Eusébio in the lineup, Guttmann guided the team to back-to-back European Cup successes. After defeating Austria Wien, 1. FC Nürnberg and Tottenham Hotspur,[11][12] Benfica met Real Madrid in the final on 2 May 1962. A hat-trick from Ferenc Puskás put the Spanish champions ahead before half-time, but a double from Coluna and rising star Eusébio overturned the score to 5–3.[13][14]

Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions.

Béla Guttmann in 1962.[15]

After consecutive European Cup wins, Guttmann approached the club's board of directors asking for a pay rise. As his demand was turned down, he left the club and professed his famous curse.[16] Benfica replaced him with Fernando Riera, and while the Chilean manager led the team to a third-straight European Cup final, he failed to emulate Guttmann's success. On 25 May 1963, against Milan, Benfica's chances were slim after a harsh tackle from Giovanni Trapattoni on Coluna severely debilitated him. In a time when substitutions did not exist, Benfica played the rest of the match crippled, and two second-half goals from José Altafini sent the trophy to Italy.[17][18][19] After a poor performance in the 1963–64 European Cup, Benfica returned to the final in the following season. Led by Romanian manager Elek Schwartz, Benfica eliminated Real Madrid 5–1 in the quarter-finals on their way to meet the holders Inter Milan in the final, which was played at Inter's home ground, San Siro, in a muddy and waterlogged pitch.[20] A mistake from Alberto da Costa Pereira, allowing a shot from Jair to pass between his legs, cost Benfica their second attempt at a European Cup treble.[21]

The following season, Benfica defeated Stade Dudelange 18–0 on aggregate, establishing a European record for biggest win on aggregate.[22] However, at a later stage of the competition, they conceded a record home defeat to Manchester United and were eliminated.[23] After one year competing in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup,[24] Benfica returned to the European Cup and reached their fifth final in 1968. After eliminating Juventus 3–0 in the semi-finals, Benfica faced Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on 29 May 1968. Bobby Charlton opened the score, but Jaime Graça equalised on the 79th minute. Near the end of regular time, Eusébio squandered a one-on-one chance against Alex Stepney and the match went to extra time, where three goals in eight minutes gave the English side their first European title.[25] The following season, Benfica were stopped in the quarter-finals by Ajax after a replay in Paris. As in the previous season's final, Benfica conceded three goals during extra time and were eliminated.[26][27] In 1969–70, Benfica fell in the second round against Scottish team and eventual finalists Celtic in a coin toss decision.[28]

After a mildly successful period in the 1960s, where they stood among the top contenders, Southern European teams started to lose influence in the European stage during the 1970s, as Dutch and German teams appeared stronger. In the 1971–72 European Cup, Benfica lost in the semi-finals to a Johan Cruyff-led Ajax on their way to a second consecutive win.[29][30] Benfica reached the quarter-finals of the 1974–75 European Cup Winners' Cup before being eliminated by another Dutch team, PSV Eindhoven.[31] Over the course of the late 1970s, as historic players like Eusébio and Simões retired, Benfica could not maintain the same performance of the previous decade, and only secured two European Cup quarter-final presences. In 1975–76, they lost 5–1 to the holders Bayern Munich,[32] and in 1977–78 they were knocked out by the defending champions Liverpool with a 6–2 aggregate score.[33]

Competitive record

Note: Benfica score is always listed first.

Chasing the dream (1980–99)

In the beginning of the 1980s, Benfica's domestic dominance had dwindled, leaving the team to play in second-level competitions, namely the Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Cup. In 1980–81, the team reached the Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals but lost to Carl Zeiss Jena from East Germany.[34] This performance was bested two seasons later, as Benfica reached the 1983 UEFA Cup Final after overcoming a quarter-final bout against a Roma side featuring Falcão and Bruno Conti. In the two-legged final, Benfica faced Belgium's Anderlecht. In the first leg, on 4 May 1983, Benfica lost in Brussels with a sole goal from Kenneth Brylle. In the second leg, fourteen days later, Benfica manager Sven-Göran Eriksson chose not to start Zoran Filipović and João Alves, both undisputed starters, and the team drew 1–1 and lost another European final.[35][36] Benfica returned to the European Cup in the following two seasons, but defeats against Liverpool in both participations showed that the team was not yet ready to compete with Europe's best teams.[37]

Mercedes-Benz Arena (former Neckarstadion) and Ernst-Happel-Stadion (former Praterstadion)

After four seasons, Benfica proved ready to challenge for the European Cup in 1987–88. After eliminating teams like Anderlecht and Steaua București, they reached their sixth final in the competition, where they met PSV in a match played at Stuttgart's Neckarstadion on 25 May 1988.[38] Following a goalless draw at the end of extra time, the match was decided by a penalty shoot-out. The Dutch side – fielding five Netherlands national team players that would go on to conquer the UEFA Euro 1988 a month later – converted all of their penalty kicks, whereas António Veloso allowed goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen to defend his penalty kick, and secured Benfica's fourth consecutive European Cup final loss.[39] Benfica did not wait long to make another appearance in the European Cup's showpiece match, as two years later – and with Swedish manager Eriksson again in charge – a team including Brazil's starting centre-backs Ricardo Gomes and Aldair, together with midfielders Valdo and Jonas Thern, eliminated Marseille with a controversial handled goal from Vata to reach their seventh European Cup final.[40] Before the final, Eusébio visited Béla Guttmann's grave, asking for forgiveness in hope of ending the curse.[41] On 23 May 1990, Benfica faced title-holders Milan at Vienna's Praterstadion and were unable to prevent Frank Rijkaard to score the winning goal and give the Italian side its fourth and second consecutive European Cup title.[42]

In the early 1990s, Benfica took part in the last edition of the European Cup before being reformulated and converted into the UEFA Champions League. They reached the tournament's group stage after a successful performance at Highbury against Arsenal, with Isaías and Vasili Kulkov scoring in extra time.[43] In the group stage, Benfica ended in third place, behind Barcelona and Sparta Prague.[44] In 1992–93, Benfica reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, beating eventual winners Juventus at home (their only loss in the competition), but losing 3–1 in Turin.[45] The following season, Benfica returned to the Cup Winners' Cup and reached the semi-finals after a 5–5 aggregate draw against Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals was decided on away goals. In Lisbon, Benfica beat Parma 2–1 for the first leg of the semi-finals, with Vítor Paneira even missing a penalty. However, in the return leg, centre-back Carlos Mozer was sent off on the 20th minute and the team resisted for 55 minutes before Roberto Sensini scored the only goal of the match, which put the Italians through.[46] In their debut in the Champions League in 1994–95, Benfica won their group but succumbed to Milan in the knockout phase.[47] From then on, the club's European performances did not match Benfica's historic record, with only a quarter-final presence in the 1996–97 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup as a highlight.[48] In the late 1990s, the team's performances remained subpar, with their lowest peak coming in the form of a 7–0 loss against Celta Vigo, which still remains as Benfica's heaviest European defeat.[49]

Competitive record

Note: Benfica score is always listed first.

Recent years (2000–present)

After missing two seasons of European football for the first time since 1960,[50] Benfica returned to UEFA competition in 2003–04. They entered that season's Champions League in the third qualifying round, but defeats against Lazio demoted them to the UEFA Cup. There, the team reached the fourth round, where they were eliminated by Inter Milan with a 4–3 away loss.[51] After another season without playing in the Champions League, Benfica returned to UEFA's main competition in 2005–06, where they achieved their best performance in eleven years. Benfica knocked Manchester United out of the competition in the group stage and eliminated the title holders Liverpool in the subsequent round, grabbing the club's first-ever win at Liverpool. In the quarter-finals, Benfica were eliminated by Barcelona after losing 2–0 at Camp Nou.[52][53] The next two seasons were fairly similar: in 2006–07 and 2007–08, Benfica finished third in the group stage and were demoted to the UEFA Cup, failing to go further than the quarter-finals.[54]

In 2009–10, Benfica had a noteworthy run in the newly created UEFA Europa League, progressing all the way from the play-off round to the quarter-finals. Their campaign featured a 5–0 thrashing of English side Everton in the group stage and an aggregate 3–2 defeat of Marseille in the round of 16, with an injury-time goal from Alan Kardec.[55] Bringing a 2–1 home advantage from the first leg of the quarter-finals against Liverpool, Benfica manager Jorge Jesus made a surprising change for the second leg at Anfield, putting centre-back David Luiz as left-back; the team eventually lost the match 4–1 and were eliminated.[56] The following season, Benfica returned to the Champions League, but as in 2006–07 and 2007–08 they were demoted to the Europa League. This time, however, the team overcame the quarter-final stage to reach their first European semi-final in 17 years. In the first European match ever between Portuguese teams, Benfica were surprised by Braga and missed the chance to qualify to the final.[57] For the 2011–12 season, Benfica strengthened their squad with Axel Witsel and improved their performance in the Champions League, progressing all the way to the quarter-finals.[58] In the group stage, Benfica topped their group – knocking Manchester United out of European competitions once again – and defeated Zenit Saint Petersbourg in the last 16 before losing 3–1 on aggregate to Chelsea.[59]

In 2012–13, Benfica's run in the Champions League run was not so successful, and they moved again to the Europa League. In this tournament, however, the team excelled and reached their ninth European final, 23 years after their last appearance. On 17 May 2013, Benfica played the final against the Champions League holders Chelsea, losing 2–1 with an injury-time header from Branislav Ivanović and extending the club's run of European final losses to seven.[41][60] In an almost identical 2013–14 season, Benfica competed in the Europa League after failing to overcome the Champions League group stage, and advanced all the way into a second successive final. In the progress, they eliminated Juventus in the semi-finals after a tense match in Turin, where the final was to be played.[61] On 15 May 2014, Benfica faced the 2006 and 2007 winners Sevilla while missing regular starters Enzo Pérez, Lazar Marković and Eduardo Salvio, who were suspended due to yellow card accumulation. The match ended goalless after 120 minutes of play and was decided through a penalty shoot-out, which Benfica lost 4–2 after Rodrigo and Óscar Cardozo had their penalty kicks stopped by Beto.[62] For the eight time – and second in two years – Benfica were unable to lift a European trophy.[63]

The following season, Benfica returned to UEFA's prime tournament but did not progress further than the group stage for the fourth time since 2010.[64] In 2015–16, Benfica reached their fourth knock-out stage of the Champions League.[65] They eliminated Zenit Saint Petersburg in the last 16 and qualified for the quarter-finals for their 18th time, where they lost 3–2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich.[66][67] A year later, Benfica repeated their presence in the knock-out stage but were eliminated by Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16.[68] In Rui Vitória's third season, Benfica performed way below expectations and finished with 6 losses and a negative goal difference of 13, setting the worst ever performance by a Portuguese team.[69][70] In 2018–19, Benfica qualified for a ninth consecutive Champions League season after progressing through two qualifying rounds.[71] Placed in Group E, they finished third, behind Ajax and Bayern, and were transferred to the Europa League for the first time since 2014.[72] Their European campaign ended in the quarter-finals after being eliminated by Eintracht Frankfurt on away goals.[73]

Competitive record

Last updated: 16 December 2019
Note: Benfica score is always listed first.


As of 23 October 2019

Benfica was the first Portuguese side to reach the final of the European Cup, the first to win it and the only one to this day to win the trophy in consecutive years.[74] In the 1960s, they reached the final five times, more than any other team, surpassing Real Madrid and Milan, who only reached three each.[75] Their ten European finals are also a domestic record,[76] and with 39 participations in the Champions League (formerly the European Cup), only Real Madrid has played more seasons in the competition.[77]

  • Most appearances in European competition: Luisão, 127[49]
  • Most goals in European competition: Eusébio, 56[49]
  • First European match: Sevilla 3–1 Benfica in the European Cup, on 19 September 1957[78]
  • Biggest win: Benfica 10–0 Stade Dudelange in the European Cup, on 5 October 1965[49]
  • First goal in European competition: Francisco Palmeiro, in the 40th minute against Sevilla, on 19 September 1957[79]
  • Biggest defeat: Celta Vigo 7–0 Benfica in the UEFA Cup, on 25 November 1999[49]
  • Highest European home attendance: 110,000, against Marseille in the European Cup, on 18 April 1990[80]

By competition

S.L. Benfica record in European football by competition[81]
Competition Pld W D L GF GA GD Win%[lower-alpha 4]
UEFA Champions League / European Cup 256 113 58 85 411 297 +114 044.14
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 42 21 12 9 67 34 +33 050.00
UEFA Europa League / UEFA Cup 125 64 27 34 198 136 +62 051.20
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 4 2 1 1 7 5 +2 050.00
Intercontinental Cup 5 1 0 4 6 15 −9 020.00
Total 432 201 98 133 689 487 +202 046.53

By country


Year Competition Opposing team Score Venue
1961 European Cup Barcelona 3–2 Wankdorf Stadium, Bern
1962 European Cup Real Madrid 5–3[13] Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam
1963 European Cup Milan 1–2[17] Wembley Stadium, London
1965 European Cup Inter Milan 0–1 San Siro, Milan
1968 European Cup Manchester United 1–4 (aet) Wembley Stadium, London
1983 UEFA Cup Anderlecht 1–2 Two-legged
1988 European Cup PSV Eindhoven 0–0 (aet) (5–6 p) Neckarstadion, Stuttgart
1990 European Cup Milan 0–1 Praterstadion, Vienna
2013 UEFA Europa League Chelsea 1–2 Amsterdam Arena, Amsterdam
2014 UEFA Europa League Sevilla 0–0 (aet) (2–4 p) Juventus Stadium, Turin

Semi-finals won

Year Competition Opposing team Score Other semi-finalists
1961 European Cup Rapid Wien 4–1 Barcelona
1962 European Cup Tottenham Hotspur 4–3[12] Real Madrid
Standard Liège
1963 European Cup Feyenoord 3–1 Milan
1965 European Cup Győri Vasas ETO 5–0 Inter Milan
1968 European Cup Juventus 3–0 Manchester United
Real Madrid
1983 UEFA Cup Universitatea Craiova 1–1 (a) Anderlecht
Bohemians ČKD Prague
1988 European Cup Steaua București 2–0 PSV Eindhoven
Real Madrid
1990 European Cup Marseille 2–2 (a) Milan
Bayern Munich
2013 UEFA Europa League Fenerbahçe 3–2 Chelsea
2014 UEFA Europa League Juventus 2–1 Valencia

Semi-finals lost

Year Competition Opposing team Score Other semi-finalists
1972 European Cup Ajax 0–1 Inter Milan
1981 Cup Winners' Cup Carl Zeiss Jena 1–2 Dinamo Tbilisi
1994 Cup Winners' Cup Parma 2–2 (a) Arsenal
Paris Saint-Germain
2011 UEFA Europa League Braga 2–2 (a) Porto


  1. English teams were banned due to the Heysel Stadium Disaster.
  2. Benfica won the match 4–1, but Partizani was expelled from competition by UEFA because they had 4 players sent off in the first leg match. UEFA awarded Benfica a 3–0 win.
  3. Partizani was expelled from the competition.
  4. Win% is rounded to two decimal places.
  5. Win% is rounded to two decimal places.


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  • Tovar, Rui Miguel (2012). Almanaque do Benfica [Benfica Almanac] (in Portuguese). Revised by Luís Milheiro (1st ed.). Alfragide, Portugal: Lua de Papel. ISBN 978-989-23-2087-8.
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