2004 - Thiago wins inaugural event
© Foto-net

Rio de Janeiro's Thiago Carrico de Azevedo lived up to his country's footballing heritage by becoming the first champion of the FIFA Interactive World Cup after a gruelling day of competition.

The world's top eight players waged war for the prestigious title, but Thiago never lost his cool as he steered his France team through the competition playing EA Sports' FIFA 2005. He outsmarted close friend and online 'game-mate' Matija Biljeskovic 2-1 in a cliffhanger of a final. His victory at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, which was streamed across the world live over the internet on FIFA.com, drew enthusiastic applause from both players and spectators packed around the gaming pod.

But it didn't all go Thiago's way in the first round when the eight players were split into two groups and played one game against each in their group. He opened up with a 2-1 victory over Australian Shane Magee, but then South African Shimane Morekure, the youngest competitor and winner of the first regional event in Johannesburg, beat Thiago's France 3-2. The Brazilian student then drew against London winner Paul Gordon in his next game, giving him four points and the runners-up place in his group behind Shimane, who notched up the highest score of all finalists with nine points.

Well aware that the global winner will stand alongside the world's best footballers at the FIFA World Player of the Year Gala and be recognised as the world's best football gamer, Thiago shifted up a gear in the semi-final, where he faced professional gamer Yoon Seo Park from Korea Republic. The match was worthy of a last four battle - the fleet-footed Thierry Henry did the damage proud with a hat-trick that sealed a 3-2 victory over the hot favourite from Asia.

The second semi-final was marked by even more prolific goalscoring. Matija's AC Milan strikers Hernan Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko gave him a 6-3 victory after extra over time over Shimane's Manchester United and a coveted place in the final.

Both sides started cautiously and much of the play was centred around midfield, but a header by Henry put Thiago ahead in the 37th minute. The second half again saw defences dominant before David Trezeguet got on the end of a cross to made it 2-0 in the 85th minute. In the final minutes of the match, American Matija gained some consolation thanks to Shevchenko's goal, but it was too little too late.

Thiago was overjoyed to win the competition which was watched by FIFA General Secretary Urs Linsi. The champion from Rio de Janeiro enthused. "I'm so happy. I used to play as Brazil, but Thierry Henry is very good so I switched to France. And the combination of Henry and Trezeguet was just wicked."

The Croatian-born Matija, who now lives in the United States, was gracious in defeat. "It was a very defensive game, almost like a stalemate in chess. There weren't that many chances, but whoever took their chance won - and he did that better than I. Second place is great. It's a dream come true that I can go to the World Player of the Year Gala - I can't wait to shake Shevchenko's hand. He's the best in the world."

Shimane secured third place while Yoon had to settle for fourth. The FIFA General Secretary summed up the competition: "You guys did a great job, congratulations. This is the birth of something that one day will be really big. I think you've all contributed to the future, so well done!"