Grand Final on the horizon
© FIFA.com

Michael Ribeiro finished second at the Grand Final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2008. It was an experience the 19-year-old American described as "probably the greatest experience I have ever been a part of."

With less than four weeks of online qualification left (online qualification runs until 31 March), FIFA.com sought out Michael's advice for gamers looking for a 2009 Grand Final ticket.

"Be consistent and play every day," he said. "The main thing is to get better each and every day. You can do this by playing higher ranks than you, that way you can learn from them and use that knowledge to improve your game."

When it comes to team selection, there's no surprise in his advice. Like many gamers, last year's runner-up favours Barcelona "for their speed and talent".

And he had some tips for those who make it to the showpiece. "In the Grand Final, the main thing is to be calm and play your game. Don't worry about the cameras, the crowd or who your opponent is. Just play how you were playing in the six months you spent trying to qualify."

Online race in week 17
With only one online qualification spot available for Africa, it's all or nothing for the African pair that currently dominate the FIWC 09 world rankings. DERGHAM1995 is currently leading by 130 points, with South African mikkaeel desperately chasing the Egyptian.

The usually dominant Brazilians may have lost ground in the world rankings in week 17, but they are still in the South American driving seat. playArtShev has a reasonable lead, but second-placed NEW_CHANCE will need to spend as much time watching the finish line as he does his back, with his closet challenger only 103 points behind.

Further North, a virtual replay of the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final seems to be on the cards. American's TheSicilian and michs09 are frantically fending off Mexican pair IXACHITLACATL and Asahel93 for the two available seats.

Europe is proving to be the most unpredictable zone. The top five are practically changing every week and qualification could come down to the very last day of online play (31 March). A bevy of challengers are tightly packed under European leader dannytaylor. Only 57 points separate second-placed herzex from fifth-placed AdamW and sandwiched between them are France's DEX-TENS and Turkey's wedding657.

Mere inches behind the European top five are a number of French, German, and English players who are practically salivating over qualification spots that appear just out of reach.

The lack of Australians in the upper echelons of the Asian zone came as a big surprise in week 17. The two available qualification seats currently belong to Saudi Arabia's cabilloUSA and Hong Kong's Gergerman.

Week 17 set the standard for big surprises, and many more can be expected before the online qualification deadline of 31 March. Make sure to return next week for more leaderboard updates and news.