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The Real Galactico

THE career of Alfredo di Stefano is underscored by success after success, yet remarkably, the Buenos Aires native who played for Argentina, Columbia and Spain, never played in a World Cup finals.

Thankfully, the advent of the European Cup coincided with the arrival of di Stefano to European shores.

And as Madrid native Rafa Benitez takes his Liverpool side to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for tonight's vital clash, he will be all too aware that Los Blancos' success in this particular competition is second to none. And the Reds' current lack of firepower in front of goal leaves him yearning for someone of di Stefano's ability to help lift the weight of expectations from his sagging shoulders.

Much of Real's success is down to di Stefano, who helped the club to a record five European titles in a row, from 1956 to 1960. Many decades after his retirement, di Stefano's presence continues to permeate the Bernabeu and it was only last week against Sporting Gijon that Raul's brace took him past the 307-goal mark that had remarkably stood for over four decades.

Di Stefano arrived at Real via River Plate of Argentina and Millonarios of Columbia, and it was his display in a match to commemorate Real's 50th anniversary that convinced Santiago Bernabeu to sign the supremely gifted player.

The Blonde Arrow holds the record of being the only player to score in five consecutive European Cup finals. Against Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960, he netted a hat-trick. Real Madrid defeated Stade Reims twice, Fiorentina, Milan and the aforementioned Eintracht in those finals.

Di Stefano also won the Ballon d'Or -- awarded to the best player in the world by prestigious magazine 'France Football' -- in 1957 and 1959.

It has given him legendary status and he is rightly recognised as one of the greatest players the game has witnessed.

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