Given Portugal's imperious and free-scoring progress through the group stage of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011, their laboured performance against quarter-final opponents Senegal came as a genuine surprise. The Portuguese were in sparkling form in all three of their Group B fixtures, breezing their way past El Salvador, Argentina and Oman. Belchior and Madjer, the top scorer at the tournament so far, thrilled the crowds with deadly shooting from every conceivable angle.
But if the Portuguese being taken to a penalty shoot-out by Senegal was unexpected, their approach to the do-or-die finale was unconventional to the extreme. Out of a team featuring four veterans from every edition of the tournament since its inception in 2005, and Madjer, the all-time leading scorer at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, coach Ze Miguel Mateus plucked an unlikely candidate to take the all-important first kick. The lot fell on Torres, one of the less celebrated second-string players.
“It's a split-second decision. Ze Miguel has faith in every player, although he obviously knows which of us is more likely to keep his cool in certain pressure situations," Torres explained to FIFA.com immediately after his side sealed their berth in the semi-finals. “I'm probably not one of the best penalty takers in training, but I always feel good in matches, in every situation, and Ze knows that."
Torres was in fine shape during the 4–4 tie with the African champions, and scored his first goal of the tournament with a beautifully-worked free-kick from halfway. On learning he would open the penalty shoot-out, the player showed no negative reaction whatsoever. “Ze didn't even ask me. Our captain Madjer informed me I was up first, and I approached it with my usual positive attitude," Torres revealed. He converted his kick, before Belchior and Madjer stepped up and did likewise to seal the Europeans' 3–2 victory.
Factors behind the decision
“There’s no fixed order for penalty shoot-outs," coach Ze Miguel Mateus told FIFA.com. “This group has been together for a long time now. I know the team well, so when the moment comes, I have a good idea how each individual is feeling: who’s mentally in good shape, who's physically exhausted and so on. There are a number of factors I take into account before coming to a decision. And aside from all this, I'm obviously aware of each player’s ability to cope with pressure situations."
Ze Miguel’s diplomatic explanation naturally conceals implicit praise for Torres. In a team featuring so many veteran stars, only a player boasting exceptional emotional and mental strength would be handed that measure of responsibility. “Well, I'm not exactly a spring chicken myself," Torres smiled. “I'm 31 and this is my third World Cup. It's not many compared to the real luminaries, but if I'm in a position to help us win with my relaxed approach, I'm obviously available to do so."