Pepe Soares

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Statue of José Manuel Soares

José Manuel Soares (30 January 1908 – 24 October 1931), known as Pepe, was a Portuguese footballer. He was born in Lisbon. During his brief career, he was a forward for CF Belenenses and was considered by many to be Portugal's best player. Despite the young age at which he died, Pepe won two Portuguese Championships and three Lisbon Championships.

Pepe's first appearance on the pitch for Belenenses was in a match against Benfica on 28 February 1926, entering in the 75th minute with Belenenses down 4-1. In the next 13 minutes, Belenenses scored three goals and tied the contest. In the final minute, Benfica were called for a foul in the penalty area. With none of the Belenenses players stepping forward to take the penalty, Pepe, the rookie, was called in by his captain to take the shot. He did not fail. Belenenses won 4-5, giving birth to the expression "15 minutes to Belenenses," an expression still used in Portugal today.

In Lisbon on 16 March 1927, at the age of 19, Pepe made his international debut for Portugal in a friendly against France. Pepe scored two goals in Portugal's 4–0 victory. In total, he played 14 games for the Portuguese national team, scoring 7 goals. Pepe also played for Portugal at the 1928 Olympic Games football tournament in Amsterdam. Portugal defeated Chile (4-2) and Yugoslavia (2-1), but subsequently lost to Egypt (1-2) in the quarter-finals. Egypt later lost to Argentina in the semi-finals (6-0) and to Italy in the match for the bronze medal (11-3). Pepe's last appearance for Portugal was in Porto on 23 February 1930, a 2–0 win over France.

In 1931, Pepe died in Lisbon of food poisoning at the age of 23. The former Salésias Stadium in Lisbon was named in his honor, and there is a statue of him at the entrance of CF Belenenses' Restelo stadium in Lisbon. It is a tradition that whenever FC Porto visits CF Belenenses for a match, the team always leaves a wreath in front of the statue before the game begins. Pepe's funeral was an event of mourning on an almost national-scale. Thirty-thousand people attended to pay their respects to the young star, whose loss shook the Portuguese sports world.

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