With 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Qualifiers taking place all over the world this weekend, football has been at fever pitch. At the Pacaembu stadium in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the fever took on a slightly different form as virtual football players gathered in the hope of earning a coveted place at the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2009 (FIWC09) Grand Final. Excited players queued from the very early hours to ensure that they could enter. The first 192 players to arrive were accepted, leaving those late arrivals to watch eagerly from the stands.
The event may have been Brazilian but all the talk surrounding it was of "the Mexican". Having played in three previous Grand Finals, and having won the Brazilian event last year, Ruben Morales Zerecero was both well known and feared. The Brazilian hopefuls were clearly a little dismayed to see that the Mexican had once again made the twelve-hour journey from Mexico City to compete. True to form, the 19-year-old took the Brazilian Live Qualifier event by storm for the second year running, earning a place at the FIWC09 Grand Final.
The atmosphere was electric throughout the day, with the passionate Brazilian crowd following "the Mexican" and hoping for an upset. Ruben wore his national flag draped around his shoulders with pride, despite the mass of opposing bodies and voices. In every one of his matches cheers and songs for Brazil filled the air as the crowd tried to rattle Ruben. "In my first game I was shaking," Ruben later said, "The noise of the crowd was so loud that I couldn't concentrate on my game. I had to call my father back in Mexico for his advice, and he helped me," admitted Ruben.
Stadium of legends
The Pacaembu stadium has seen some dramatic action this week. Legendary striker Ronaldo scored twice for Corinthians at the venue on Wednesday night, and then Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown, accompanied by Brazilian legend Socrates, visited the venue's museum on Thursday. The crowd at today's FIWC09 though, made the final match overshadow these highpoints, as the place erupted with energy and passion.
Having scraped through a hugely dramatic semi-final on sudden-death penalties, Ruben faced a local challenger in the final match: 19-year old Sergio Pires from Franca, near Sao Paolo. Following the Mexican national anthem, which the brave, lone Mexican sang proudly, the room erupted as the Brazilian national anthem filled the air and it almost felt as though the crowd could carry Sergio to the title with just the power of their support.
Spurred on by the crowd, Sergio dominated a scrappy first-half as Ruben struggled to contain his nerves. Both players settled into a rhythm in the second-half though and it was ultimately Ruben's Manchester United team that clinched the dramatic 2-1 victory.
Rocky pushes Ruben through
Ruben, an aspiring actor back home in Mexico City, jumped in the air for joy before falling to the ground exhausted. He now had Barcelona to look forward to. But will 2009 finally be his year to win? "I think so, yes," said the confident player, "Spain has always followed me in my competitions so I believe it is right for me that I will win the FIWC in Spain this year. I just can't wait for my fourth Grand Final."
Ruben revealed that he loves watching Rocky Balboa movies, and had watched Rocky III to help with his preparation for this event. He may not be a heavyweight champion like Rocky Balboa yet, but he certainly has a great chance of winning this FIWC title in Barcelona this year.