"I'm the best in the world," says the man from the USA as he emerges from a strong field as the world's top virtual footballer.
There was a nip in the air as the doors swung open on the FIFA Interactive Word Cup Grand Final in Barcelona's Port Olimpic.
The field of 32 players looking to stake their claim for glory included former champions Alfonso Ramos from Spain and Bruce Grannec from France.
Both previous winners had a slow start, losing their opening matches 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. Following that early setback, Grannec hit his stride, winning his subsequent group matches 3-1 and 6-1 to progress to the knock-out stage of the tournament.
The first knock-out round saw the first real shock of the day as Sudan's Abdulaziz Shiddo beat England's Chris Bullard, one of the favourites, 3-1.
The man from Africa faced Grannec in the quarter-finals and they were joined by the England duo of Danny Taylor and Robert Brewster, Colombia's Javier Munoz, France's Adrien's Makhloufi, Germany's Ayhan Altundag and, of course, Nenad Stojkovic.
With the competition down to the last eight, the tension was palpable, especially in the game that saw Taylor defeat Munoz by the narrowest of margins, scoring with seconds remaining in extra time to secure his place in the semis. In the other matches, the reigning champion Grannec was hitting his stride, comfortably seeing off Shiddo 4-1.
With the sun now bathing the arena, the crowd was swelling, lapping up the entertainment on offer in the form of Samba drumming band Batacuda, freestylers John Farnworth and Spain's Jesus, a beach soccer demo from Spain's Amarelle and areas featuring the latest PlayStation 3 titles and games from EA.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the arrival of Patrick Kluivert and the former Dutch star gamely faced off against Amarelle in a FIFA 10 exhibition match before shooting signed footballs into the crowd for people to claim.
Then it was back to the serious business as first Grannec and Stojkovic returned under the spotlight for the first semi-final. In a tense game which saw Chelsea take on Chelsea, neither player was able to pull clear of the other and, with the score at 3-3, extra time beckoned.
With penalties looming, the man from the United States finished off the champion with three quick goals in the last six minutes, including two exquisite lobs. In the other semi-final, 18-year-old Altundag playing as France saw off 17-year-old Taylor playing as Real Madrid; the 3-1 scoreline included a sweet lob from Thierry Henry in the 63rd minute and although the Englishman came back strongly, hitting the post in the final minutes, Altundag hung on to secure his place in the final.
Grannec then overcame Taylor 3-0 to secure third place; it was an even game in terms of possession and the Frenchman's experience and cool head in front of goal made the difference as he took the 1,000 USD prize.
And so to the final. From over 775,000 players the world over, it had come to this: two young men appearing in their very first FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final tournament took their seat for 12 of the most important minutes of their life yet. Both players had met at the start of the day, drawing 2-2 when they had faced each other in their first group game and, second time around, it proved to be an equally tense affair.
Altundag playing as France held the upper hand to begin with, only for Stojkovic playing as Chelsea to take first blood on 35 minutes with a sweet goal against the run of play.
The German struck back minutes later and it was 1-1 going into the break. With chances few and far between after the restart, extra time seemed to be beckoning until Drogba turned smartly in the box for Stojkovic and shot across the goalkeeper to make it 2-1. Despite failing to add to his lead minutes later, the ball looping tantalisingly wide, Stojkovic held on to claim the title.
After handing out the prizes to the top three, Kerry Lee from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe said: "It's been a brilliant day. It was a hard fought competition with some incredible football being played and everyone seemed to have a great time."
"Today has been a fitting end to months of intense competition across the world and I'm really pleased for Nenad. I am looking forward to next year's competition already."
With the sun shining down on him and Groove Armada's Andy Cato taking to the stage to keep the crowds entertained, let's leave the last word to Nenad Stojkovic, the FIFA Interactive World Champion 2010: "I'm ecstatic. You try to be the best in whatever you do and to actually say that you're the best is such an accomplishment. You can't beat that feeling."
|Publish date:||Sat May 01 18:51:00 BST 2010|