Following three exciting days at the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2016 Grand Final in New York City, Denmark’s Mohamad Al-Bacha was crowned the new FIWC champion after beating England’s Sean Allen in the final.
“When I scored in the 88th minute, I thought, ‘I just have to score another’,” Al-Bacha said after the final.
Harlem’s Apollo Theater is a classic music hall in New York City. Designed in a classical revival style, the venue was fit for a classic contest between the best gamers on the planet. Today it provided the stage for the Final Showdown of the FIWC 2016 Grand Final where Mohamad Al-Bacha emerged as champion of the biggest gaming tournament on the planet.
New winner guaranteed
France’s Dylan Bance was the only semi-finalist going into Tuesday’s Final Showdown with past Grand Final experience, as he was in Munich last year. Al-Bacha, the youngest of the semi-finalists at the age of 17, was extremely impressive on Matchday 1 as he won all of his matches without conceding a single goal. The big question leading into the Final Showdown was: would anyone be able to score against the Dane?
Ivan Lapanje may not have been the favourite to win the competition for a lot of FIWC followers, but maybe we should have been listening closer to 2014 FIWC runner-up David Bytheway on Matchday 1, who, in an interview with FIFATV, picked Lapanje to go far in the tournament.
The coveted trophy was presented – and later handed to the winner - by FIFA World Cup™ winner with Spain, and current New York City FC forward David Villa. Villa’s presence symbolised the strong connection between the eSports community of FIFA and with the game itself, reinforcing the reality that everyone gathered in the Apollo were coming together in love of football, first and foremost.
“The players are playing very good, it’s so amazing,” Villa said. “Their abilities are amazing. They’re feeling a lot of emotions. I wish good luck to both of them!” Villa then had some last-minute advice to the finalists: “Take out the nerves, believe in yourself, find good luck and play strong.”
Al-Bacha selected France, while Lapanje, from Sweden, selected Brazil in the first semi-final. The first significant chance of the game was created by Lapanje who shot just wide, but Al-Bacha created a chance of his own in response, resulting in roars from the crowd. Both goalkeepers were in top form, making key saves early on. It was Al-Bacha who found the breakthrough, scoring with Antoine Griezmann. Lapanje created dangerous chances early in the second half, but Al-Bacha went two goals ahead after converting a penalty. Lapanje made it a real contest when he scored right on 90 minutes with a rebounded header by Douglas Costa, but it wasn’t enough in the end as Al-Bacha won the first semi-final 2-1. “I think France is a more well-rounded team than Brazil, so that’s why I selected them“, Al-Bacha told presenter Kay Murray afterwards, and he had some friendly words for his opponent in the process. “Lapanje is an amazing player and person, and he’s a lovely guy.”
Sean Allen and Bance actually played each other in the group stages and Allen won comfortably 4-0, so the day’s second semi-final had an interesting psychological angle to observe. Allen played with Brazil, while Bance selected Germany, bringing back memories of that forgetful night for all of Brazil at Belo Horizonte during the 2014 World Cup. However, Allen’s performance showed he had none of those thoughts in his mind, as he was first to score in the 32nd minute with Neymar. Bance gave away possession too easily and Allen was able to capitalise in the end, scoring two late goals with Neymar, completing his hat-trick, and eventually winning 3-0. Allen showed all tournament long that he could score goals, so setting up a Final Showdown between himself and Al-Bacha meant it would be the best attack against the best defence.
In the title decider Allen was the higher seed, which meant, crucially, he got to select his console of choice in the first leg of the final. Interestingly, he opted to play the first leg with Playstation®4, his weaker console to, in theory, give him an advantage in the second leg. Al-Bacha went ahead first in the 31st minute, however, Allen responded just eight minutes later with a goal of his own with a player he counted on throughout the tournament, Neymar. The second half was a nervy one, but Al-Bacha eventually found the breakthrough with Matuidi. However, Allen scored minutes later with a composed finish from Hulk. Hugo Lloris made a huge save near the end to keep the score at 2-2, which meant Allen had the psychological advantage going into the second leg.
In the second leg, both players selected the same teams, but this time the match was played on Allen’s favoured Xbox One console. The Dane scored the opener, giving him a 3-2 aggregate advantage. However, Allen then struck back with a goal of his own when Hulk squeaked through a shot past the French defence. Allen scored again shortly after with a breakthrough goal from Douglas Costa to give him a 4-3 aggregate lead. Allen then scored another goal with Costa, who weaved his way through the defence to score the third of the game for Brazil. Al-Bacha then sent the crowd into hysterics when he scored in the 89th minute off a free-kick. Unbelievably, in what was the defining moment from the entire tournament, the Dane, having adapted an attacking 4-2-4 formation, scored a last-second goal to win the FIFA Interactive World Cup.
The FIFA Interactive World Cup is clearly reaching new heights. All 32 Grand Finalists were introduced to the Apollo audience with a full screen graphic behind them as they walked on stage, a scene suited for a World Cup Final, complete with the arm-crossing stance the football world has come to love.
Football legends like Frank Lampard and Villa were involved in the Tournament Draw and Final Showdown respectively - just another sign of FIFA’s growing prominence in the football world. And the feeling here is, it will only get bigger and bigger.
There were professional footballers watching in the audience. FIFA.com spoke with New York Red Bulls defenders Damien Perrinelle and Ronald Zubar during the Final Showdown to get their observations on the event.
“The passion on show has been great to see,” Zubar said. “People really enjoyed the night. Obviously, FIFA has developed a lot in the last ten years and has taken over. It’s so realistic, sometimes it’s weird! You can see the players are tactically aware and they have a lot of fun with it.”
“To be a good player on the pitch can make you better at FIFA,” Perrinelle said. “You can read the game better than your opponent. But what I’ve seen from these players is that they have a very good tactical brain.”
Mohamad Al-Bacha (DEN) 2-1 Ivan Lapanje (SWE)
Sean Allen (ENG) 3-0 Dylan Bance (FRA)
First leg: Sean Allen (ENG) 2-2 Mohamad Al-Bacha (DEN)
Second leg: Mohamad Al-Bacha (DEN) 3-3 Sean Allen (ENG)
*Al-Bacha won on the away console rule