"Francisco, as I see it, will be one of the next FIFA superstars," were Ruben Zerecero’s words back in 2009. The Mexican FIWC veteran’s remarks came after a tightly contested semi-final at the FIFA Interactive World Cup Cup 2009 that saw him progress to the final at the expense of Cruz.
Then 14-years-old, Francisco was the youngest Grand Finalist in Barcelona, a fact that didn't stop him from finishing third. Ruben’s prescient words were finally validated today, as he watched the Portuguese virtual football maestro lift the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2011 trophy.
Chelsea may have endured a disappointing campaign in the 2010/11 Premier League, but Francisco employed the Blues to maximum effect at the FIWC11 Grand Final. With eight wins, one draw and no losses, Cruz was undefeated at the FIWC11 Grand Final. England’s Robert Brewster was the only Grand Finalist to steal a point off the Portuguese (a thrilling 3-3 draw in the opening match of the group stage).
Brushing aside the close call with Brewster, Cruz went on to win his next four group stage games. He defeated Patryk Urbanek 2-1, Sergei Polichnoi 3-1, Wbeimar Forero 2-1 and Rafael Sanchez 3-1. 13 points from five games was enough to give the Portuguese poll position in Group C and a seat in the quarter-finals.
Facing your fears
Cruz had to come to terms with his past as he watched Ruben Zerecero claim second place in Group D, thereby ensuring a meeting with the Portuguese in the quarter-finals. Facing the man who knocked him out of FIWC09 proved a surprisingly comfortable task and Francisco defeated Ruben 4-1 to claim a place in the semi-final. After that, the Portuguese looked more and more comfortable. He dismantled Australian hopeful Mark Azzi 2-0 in the semi-finals and then went on to a resounding 4-1 win against Colombia’s Javier Munoz in the final.
A fitting final
It was Cruz’s Chelsea against Munoz’s Real Madrid in the high-stakes finale. Two first-half goals by Cruz put him in the driving seat by half-time. In a smart tactical move, Munoz brought on Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentinian forward did not disappoint, pulling a goal back for Munoz. Just when the Colombian looked to be back in the running Francisco put his foot on the gas and slotted two more goals past Casillas to snatch a 4-1 win, and with it the FIWC11 title.
Cruz will fly back to Portugal with the nation's first ever FIFA Interactive World Cup trophy. He will also be taking back USD20,000 in prize money and a trip for two to the next FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala.
Results (9 June):
Semi-final 1: Francisco Cruz (Chelsea) 2-0 Mark Azzi (Chelsea)
Semi-final 2: Javier Munoz (Real Madrid) 2-1 Adam Winster (Chelsea)
Third-place playoff: Mark Azzi (Chelsea) 1-0 Adam Winster (Chelsea)
Final: Francisco Cruz (Chelsea) 4-1 Javier Munoz (Real Madrid)