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Born: Thursday 8 September 1938, Torres Novas, Portugal
Died: Friday 3 September 2010, Lisbon, Portugal (aged 71)
Position: Centre Forward
José Torres is closely linked with each of Portugal's first two appearances at the World Cup finals. A star of the team which reached the semi-finals in 1966, he went on to manage his country at their next appearance in the tournament 20 years later, albeit with considerably less success. He was also a pivotal member of the great Benfica team which dominated Portuguese football throughout the 1960s.
Born in Torres Novas on 8 September 1938, José Torres came from a family of footballers. Both his father and uncle had played the game at a high level, and he began his own career with local side Torres Novas as a teenager. He was always taller than most of his contemporaries and quickly developed a reputation for being incredibly strong in the air, while his kindly nature earned him the nickname 'the gentle giant'.
Torres' professional career began in 1959 when at the age of 20, he signed for Benfica. He faced significant competition for a starting place in the forward line and for three years struggled to become established in the team, but nevertheless showed his potential at the highest level. He played just twice in the league in each of his first three seasons but still averaged a goal a game in those six matches. Having missed out on Benfica's back-to-back European Cup successes in 1961 and 1962, Torres finally became first choice at centre forward in the 1962-63 season.
He replaced club legend José Águas in the team, to the anger of some fans, but that feeling did not last long. Torres' impact was stunning as he scored 26 goals in 21 league games, finshing the season as the league's leading scorer and helping Benfica to win the title for the loss of just one game. He also helped Benfica to reach a third consecutive European Cup final, scoring a vital goal in the second leg of the semi-final against Feĳenoord, but defeat to AC Milan ended the club's run as European Champions.
During that season, Torres had also broken into the Portuguese national team for the first time, making his debut in a European Championship first round play-off against Bulgaria, which Portugal lost 1-0. Playing alongside club team-mate Eusébio, his early international career coincided with an era of great success for the country, but was not without controversy. At the 'Taça das Nações' in 1964, a celebration of the Brazilian Football Confederation's 50th anniversary, he was sent off for attempting to punch a referee who had disallowed a Portuguese goal.
Despite missing more than a third of Benfica's games, Torres contributed 23 league goals in 1963-64 as Benfica won a domestic double. He passed the 20 goal mark again a year later in another title success, as well as starring in another run to the European Cup final. Despite Torres and Eusébio scoring nine goals each, the joint highest in the competition, Benfica once more fell at the final hurdle when they lost to Internazionale. They went on to lose their title as well in 1965-66, but that season brought a historic achievement for the Portuguese national team.
With Torres ever-present in the qualifying competition, Portugal held off Czechoslovakia to reach the World Cup finals in England, their first ever appearance in the tournament. The team proved to be a revelation in England, with Torres one of the stars of their campaign. In their opening game he put the finishing touch on a 3-1 win over Hungary with his first World Cup goal, before adding another in the 3-0 victory over Bulgaria.
Having sealed first place in the group by beating holders Brazil, Portugal produced a fantastic fightback to overcome North Korea in the last eight, but eventually fell 2-1 to England in the semi-finals. Torres grabbed his third goal of the finals in the third place match against the Soviet Union, volleying home what proved to be the winning goal two minutes from time as Portugal sealed what remains their highest ever World Cup placing.
Two more league titles followed in 1967 and 1968, the latter accompanied by another run to the final of the European Cup. Torres contributed important goals in both the quarter-final and semi-final, but yet again the final proved a step too far. Benfica lost 4-1 to Manchester United and Torres was destined never to appear in a European Cup winning team, something which he would later declare to be the biggest regret of his career.
That disappointment was matched by frustration at international level, as Portugal were unable to build on their successes of 1966. They failed to reach the final stage of the 1968 European Championship and Torres' goal in the qualifying match against Norway ultimately proved to be the last of his career. They also finished bottom of their qualifying group for the 1970 World Cup and although Torres remained a member of the national squad until 1973, he never appeared in another major tournament.
Domestic success however continued to come, as Benfica's dominance of Portuguese football went on. They completed a league and cup double in 1969, retained the cup in 1970 and won another championship in 1971, but that proved to be Torres' final major trophy with the club. His first team opportunities had become more limited and so having scored 226 goals in 259 games for Benfica, he moved on to Vitória de Setúbal.
During Torres' time with the club, Vitória enjoyed one of the most successful eras in their history, albeit without winning any major trophies. He contributed 21 league goals in his first season as Vitória finished as runners-up to Benfica in the league. They then reached the cup final a year later, but this time missed out to Sporting CP. After a short spell as player-coach, Torres left Vitória in 1975 to join Estoril Praia, where he spent the remainder of his playing days.
After five years with Estoril, Torres retired in 1980 at the age of 42, with the club having suffered relegation in his final season. He moved into coaching with Varzim, before being offered the job of national team manager in 1984. Portugal were coming off a semi-final appearance in the European Championship, their first major tournament appearance since 1966. Torres went on to lead them to the World Cup finals, sealing their place with a 1-0 win over West Germany in their last qualifying match.
Sadly for Torres, the finals in Mexico were marred by poor organisation and unrest among the players, including threats to strike over the issue of prize money. Despite a 1-0 win over England in their opening match, Portugal lost their remaining group games to Poland and Morocco and went out of the tournament at the first stage. Torres left his job after the tournament, returning to club management, but with little success.
After spells with Boavista, Portimonense and Desportivo Beja, he retired from management in the mid-1990s and settled in Lisbon, where he spend the remainder of his life pursuing a long standing interest in racing pigeons. In his 60s, he faced a number of personal problems and his health also began to decline, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. José Torres died on 3 September 2010, just five days short of his 72nd birthday.
References (all accessed 16 November 2012 except *):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%C3%A7a_das_Na%C3%A7%C3%B5es (* accessed 4 December 2012)
- Published on Saturday, 17 November 2012 01:03