Changed Times Since Tottenham And Benfica Met As Best Teams In Europe


Times have changed greatly since Tottenham and Benfica last met in European competition. Back then, in 1962 they were, arguably, the best two clubs in Europe challenging for a place in the final of the European Cup.

Danny Blanchflower puts Spurs ahead with a penalty [Photo: Logan Holmes]Back in 1962

In March/April, 1962 Tottenham and Benfica met over two legs in the semi-final of the European Cup. It was Tottenham’s first experience of competitive European football and it had been a steep learning curve for Bill Nicholson and his ‘Double’ winning team. Jimmy Greaves who had been signed from AC Milan the previous November was now eligible to play but after the first match in Portugal Spurs knew they were facing a difficult task.

At that time, Benfica were the holders of the European Cup and had won the league in Portugal for the 11th time in retaining their title in 1960-61. Tottenham had won the ‘Double’ with their league title making them 1st Division champions for the second time in their history. The significance of the match was that the winners would be clear favourites to lift the trophy as Real Madrid who had won the European Cup for the first five years of its existence were an ageing team and no longer posed the threat they once had.

Related Article:

Old Photographs from 1962 Match – Read more

The End of the Dream – So Near, Yet So Far

5th April, 1962

European Cup Semi-final (2nd leg)

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Benfica 1

Scorers: Smith, Blanchflower (pen)

Team: Brown; Baker, Henry; Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay; Medwin, White, Smith, Greaves, Jones

[Photo:]Tottenham were two goals down from the first game and were determined to turn it around as they had done in the previous rounds of the competition. The atmosphere inside a packed White Hart Lane was electric – 64,448 spectators roaring Spurs on against the reigning European champions.

Spurs pushed forward in search of a goal to reduce the deficit but after 15 minutes were stunned when Benfica scored. Now three goals behind the task was daunting but Spurs kept at it and seemed to have got their first when Jimmy Greaves took a pass from Smith to score. The referee awarded a goal but the linesman flagged for offside. Greaves was wrongly given offside, having moved between two defenders to take the pass. No Benfica player had appealed but now over the two games Spurs had had three goals disallowed for offside.

Spurs pressed on and got their reward before half-time when Bobby Smith scored from a pass by John White. Spurs kept up the pressure and two minutes into the second a foul on White brought a penalty. The pressure inside the ground mounted but Danny Blanchflower remained calm and coolly stepped up to put Spurs ahead.

There was plenty of time left to get the winner but in spite of Spurs continued forward momentum, they hit the post and the bar and had a couple of chances, they couldn’t get the breakthrough. The pressure of the evening got to them and instead of playing their normal football – they were too hurried and did everything too quickly.

The Spurs’ dream of being the first British team to win the European Cup was over.

In 2014

Since their last European meeting 52 years ago Benfica have gone on to take their total of league titles in Portugal to 32. As expected they defeated Real Madrid 5 – 3 in that season’s final to retain the trophy but have never added to it. They have been losing finalists on 5 occasions and also reached the final of the UEFA Cup/Europa League twice, the most recent being last season when losing to Chelsea.

Tottenham haven’t added to their league titles but went on to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season to become the first British club to win a European trophy. They have since added the UEFA Cup on two occasions to their list of trophies.

Present Day

Currently, Benfica are top of the league in Portugal having finished as runners-up in the past three seasons. They are 13 points clear at the top of the Portuguese Premeira Liga, having suffered only 1 feat in 22 league matches. The task facing Tottenham is highlighted by the fact that in 13 matches since mid-December, Benfica have conceded only 1 goal while scoring 25 in League, Cup and Europa League games.

Tottenham, in that time have appointed a new manager and are finding the gap to their goal of a Champions League finish becoming more difficult to bridge.

The Europa League draw has presented Tottenham with formidable opponents who have competed in the European Cup/Champions League on 32 occasions. This season Benfica finished third in their Champions League group behind winners Paris Saint-Germain who they defeated in the final group match. They were level on 10 points with 2nd-placed Olympiakos and having dropped into the Europa League, had a comfortable 4 – 0 aggregate win over PAOK Salonika, winning away (1 – 0) and home (3 – 0) to reach this stage.

Tottenham will need to show grater application tonight and look to gain an advantage to take into next week’s 2nd leg game, if they are to stand any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals of the Europa League for a second successive season.