LISBON: The Portuguese government declared three days of national mourning in tribute to to Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, the legendary Portugal and Benfica top scorer, who died on Sunday aged 71.

Fans paid homage by visiting an iconic statue of him erected next to the Benfica stadium, leaving flowers, scarves and other tributes while tributes poured in from around the world.

Eusebio, born in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, on January 25, 1942, died after a cardiac arrest. He had been suffering heart problems for some years.

He scored 733 goals in 745 competitive games over his career, won the European Cup with Benfica in 1962 and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965.

Leading the tributes was Portugal’s current superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, inevitably bound to establish himself as Portugal’s new record marksman during the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

On his website the Real Madrid forward wrote: “Always eternal, Eusebio, rest in peace,” accompanied with a picture of both of them together.

The state television channel RTP quoted his his biographer, Joao Malheiro, as saying: “Having followed his life close up and on a daily basis, I was a witness to his health having become very fragile and there were clear signs of this in recent years.

“At the moment though this isn’t the most important thing, what’s most important is to remember the man who was, and always will be, in the place of the imortals of this country and was clearly of emblematic importance for Portuguese in the 20th century, above all during the 1960s when Portugal lived under a dictatorship.”

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said: “He has been one of the great figures of Portugal. He was an important ambassador for football in values, principles and feelings even after finishing his career. If he were 20 or 30 now he would still be an amazing player.”

Antonio Simoes, who came into the Benfica and Portugal teams at the same time as Eusebio, said: “He was a great friend, an exceptional player. The country has lost an outstanding ambassador and I have lost a brother.”

Joaquin Chissano, former President of Mozambique, said: “It’s a sad day. Eusebio has always been a source of great pride for the people of Mozambique.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter added his own tribute via Twitter, saying: “Football has lost a legend . . . Eusebio’s place among the greats will never be taken away. He was a football and FIFA ambassador [who] will be sorely missed.”

One minute’s applause was held at Old Trafford in tribute to Eusebio before the kickoff of the third round English FA Cup-tie between Manchester United and Swansea City.