It was a warm, sunny day in the Eternal City as the best football gamers from across Italy descended on Rome's Futbol Club Sport Centre, hoping to win the honour of representing their nation at the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2009 (FIWC09) Grand Final.
With joypads at the ready and the stunning graphics of EA Sports™ FIFA 09 scrolling across giant screens, gamers felt the temperature in the arena start to soar. Towards midday, as the afternoon rounds commenced, rising temperatures stoked the pressure-cooker atmosphere. The smiles and relaxed expressions which accompanied the opening rounds gradually gave way to tension and there were increasingly passionate cheers from supporters that had travelled from all over Italy to follow a few of the tournament favourites.
Much to the delight of fans, two football stars from the city's rival Serie A teams dropped by the Futbol Club Sport Centre. Up-and-coming Lazio defender Lorenzo De Silvestri and seasoned Roma striker Vincenzo Montella showed that they were no strangers to FIFA 09. Both admitted to playing at home with the family and even in between training sessions.
De Silvestri revealed that the best FIFA 09 players at Lazio were Argentinians' Juan Pablo Carrizo and Mauro Zarate, while Montella mentioned that World Champions' Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, shared the bragging rights among the Giallorossi.
Big surprises in the semi-finals
For the first time ever in the FIFA Interactive World Cup, a female contestant made it through to the final four. Aged just 13, Fabiola Falsetti demonstrated outstanding ability and narrowly missed out on the final. "It was a fantastic adventure," she said. "This year Electronic Arts has made a really brilliant game and this event today was simply fabulous and exciting."
The other losing semi-finalist also had some surprises on hand for the crowd. 19-year-old Dario La Rocca from Messina performed tremendously well, carrying a niggling injury to his left hand that forced him to improvise by playing with just one hand! Dario lost his semi-final match in extra time.
Last man standing
19-year-old Daniele D'Alterio from Giugliano, faced fellow Neapolitan, Pasquale Aprea from Calvizzano in the final match. Daniele played as Barcelona, the most popular team among the 128 participants of the Rome competition, while 16-year-old Pasquale opted for the second most popular team, Manchester United. In the end, Daniele claimed a 4-1 victory thanks to the attacking flair of a forward line featuring Messi, Eto'o and Henry.
Pasquale struggled to hide his disappointment at the result: "I played a good tournament, but nerves ultimately got the better of me." A likeable and outgoing engineering student, Daniele was literally swept to victory by the fervent support of his travelling contingent of friends, who had followed him all the way to Rome.
"They were the twelfth man out there on the pitch and to thank them I'll be taking them with me to the Grand Final in Barcelona," declared the Italian champion. "I'm really proud to have qualified and I can't wait to start training to defend Italy's colours. We won the World Cup in Germany in 2006, so why not do the same with EA Sports FIFA 09?"
Daniele will travel to Barcelona, for his Grand Final debut on 2 May, where he will encounter the toughest group of Playstation®3 football gamers that FIWC 2009 has to offer.