Johannesburg, the city that in just over a year's time will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ final, was buzzing with activity this weekend as the FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC) came to the 'City of Gold'.
South Africans cannot get enough of football at the moment. Everywhere you go, locals are talking football, watching football and, of course, playing football. With the FIFA Confederations Cup mere months away, the FIWC Live South African Qualifier was another welcome football festival on South Africa's 2009 calendar. More than 500 players turned up at Sandton City in Johannesburg to compete in the world's largest virtual football tournament.
Dé jà vu flash for Gordon
Having experienced a taste of FIWC action in 2008, 31-year-old Gordon Butler was eager to improve on last year's performance and progress further than the final 128 players. However it was almost dé jà vu for the star. After a 2-2 draw, Gordon had to win a penalty shoot out to stay in the running. From the Round of 64 on, Gordon went from strength to strength and finally claimed the main prize.
"I was so close to going out before reaching the final 64 and just thought I had nothing to lose as the rounds went on. I am shaking now and can't believe I have won! I can't wait to now go to Barcelona and will definitely give it my best shot."
This high energy FIWC Africa event was held over three days, with 256 players competing on day one, another 256 players on day two and the finalists on the third day. Players, spectators and many South African celebrities dropped by to enjoy the EA Sports™ FIFA09 fun.
Football stars from Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates were in attendance, as were South African football stars Shaun Bartlett (the 2nd all-time leading scorer for Bafana Bafana) and Andre Arendse. South Africa's much loved boxing champion ‘Baby Jake' Matlala also dropped by. Two of South Africa's cricketing heroes, Dale Steyn and Paul Harris, swapped their usual red leather cricket ball for a virtual football and put on an entertaining exhibition match for the crowd.
Last year's champion
Prior to the event kicking off, all eyes were on Bjorn Diedricks. Last year's South African FIWC champion was eager to battle his way to Barcelona and he wasted no time making his intentions clear. Bjorn set the pace early on, emphatically winning 6-0 in his first game of the tournament.
"Last year's experience at the Grand Final in Berlin was amazing. I really hope I can win here and qualify for this year's Grand Final," the young South African said after his match.
Bjorn was unable to sustain his form for the duration of the event and was undone by Tshesebe Mokgosi 3-1 in the Round of 32. Bjorn was, however, gracious in defeat. He openly praised his opponent, admitting that Tshesebe had been the better player on the big day.
IT manager-by-day and FIFA09 superstar-by-night, Gordon Butler came from a goal down to beat Mubeen Gaffoor 3-1 in a highly entertaining Final. The score line may suggest a fairly one sided game, but the final was in fact closely contested. The finalists matched each other for skill, power and determination. Having pulled a goal back half-way through the second half, Gordon eventually had the final laugh scoring two late goals in extra time.
"Flash" Gordon will now fly to Barcelona to compete in the FIWC09 Grand Final on 2 May. Two live events are still to be enjoyed before the Grand Final. In the USA, the national final takes place in New York on 4 April and in Copenhagen, the Denmark Live event plays out on 12 April.