Two years ago, in the exotic surroundings of Los Angeles, the FIFA Interactive World Cup served up one of the biggest surprises in its short but thrilling existence, when a shy 16-year-old Portuguese boy called Francisco Cruz took the world title. A loyal Porto fan, Cruz was living a dream, one that also took him to the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich.

Speaking to, Cruz recalled that star-studded evening: “It felt very strange. It was like being here now, all very relaxed, but with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi around me. And it was like the most natural thing! You can’t ever get used to something like that.”

That night is now in the past and the timid teenager has since reached adulthood. One thing that has remained unchanged, however, is his passion for EA SPORTS FIFA, which was plain to see when he took part in the recent Champions Trophy in Cologne, Germany, where the new defence system of the most exciting game on the virtual circuit was unveiled.

“It’s spectacular. It gets more and more realistic,” said the smiling Cruz, who hails from Trofa, near Porto. “It didn’t make last year’s Grand Final in Madrid because I didn’t have time to play many games, which was a weird feeling. I really hope to be in Rio de Janeiro next year, though. I love the city and the World Cup will be on too. You can’t ask for more than that.”

A champion’s advice 
Now an even wiser head, the economics students, who lists Luis Lucho Gonzalez as one of his favourite footballers, knows exactly what it takes to become the world’s best virtual player. And rather than keep the secret to himself, he is ready to share it with the rest of the gaming community.

“When you start playing you need to compete a lot, as much as you possibly can,” said the former world champ. “Once you reach a good level, though, you should start playing a little less. It’s more important to play just a bit, but against the best.

“I play two or three games a day at home but I watch a lot of games involving other good players. I try and learn from them and copy a few things,” added Cruz, who had no hesitation in naming reigning FIWC champion Bruce Grannec as the best player on the circuit today.

“You can beat Bruce the odd time, but he’s been up there at the top for many years,” said the Portuguese gamer. “You can defeat him, but you need a lot of luck to do so. The key is to score the first goal, stay calm and force him to make mistakes, which is easier said than done.”

Conscious that his absence from this year’s Grand Final surprised everyone, Cruz said he would be doing everything in his power to make it to Rio de Janeiro 2014, a goal that his national team is still striving for.

In his bid to get there he is going to carry on playing with Real Madrid: “I chose them because they have Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s Portuguese like me.” He is also banking on his own special way of coping with pressure: “I’ve already achieved what I wanted to in the world of FIFA, which was to reach the top. I’ll be very happy if I make the Grand Final, but anything after that will be a bonus. There can’t be many things in life better than playing in the FIWC in Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup.”