The road to glory

The FIWC11 Grand Final is over and we have a new world Champion. 16-year-old Francisco Cruz battled the 23 best EA SPORTS™ FIFA 11 gamers to claim the world title. Today, we take a closer look at the virtual football that took place in Los Angeles from 7-9 June, including all the major upsets and notable newcomers.

Calm before the storm
Once the group-stage draw was over, the Grand Finalists surveyed the tournament board. Most agreed that Group B appeared to be the toughest, billing it the tournament's 'Group of Death'. Javier Munoz and Adam Winster eventually claimed the top two berths in Group B to book their place in the next round.

Meanwhile, in Group A, 2010 FIWC champion Nenad Stojkovic quickly reminded spectators of his quality on the console, finishing top of the Group with five wins and just one goal conceded. The first major surprise of the tournament was provided by the group's second quarter-finalist, Tyronne Allen. Tyronne qualified for the Grand Final through the MTV Wildcard competition. The Londoner made the most of the opportunity, squeezing into the quarterfinals by virtue of goal difference in Group A. Francisco Cruz and Wbeimar Forero from Group C and Mark Azzi and Ruben Zerecero from Group D rounded off the quarter-finalists.

Stojkovic ousted in the last eight
The first quarter-final was contested by 2010 champion Nenad Stojkovic and Adam Winster, winner of the UK Live Qualifier Event. Winster kept his cool to claim a deserved victory over Stojkovic, who until that point had looked increasingly likely to stage a successful defence of his title. In the second quarter-final, Tyronne's FIWC11 dream ended at the hands of Javier Munoz.

After a strong group stage with four wins and one draw, Francisco Cruz faced off against the player who knocked him out of the FIWC09 Grand Final, Ruben Zerecero. He beat the Mexican 4-1, earning the nickname 'King of Crosses' for his excellent use of the flanks. The last quarter-final saw the relatively unknown Mark Azzi beat Wbeimar Forero of Colombia. Several observers had previously hinted that the Australian could be the dark horse for the title on the back of his performances at the Live Qualifier Event in Sydney.

Colourful semi-final line-up
With Francisco Cruz, Mark Azzi, Adam Winster and Javier Munoz proudly representing Portugal, Australia, England and Colombia respectively, the mixture of nationalities in the semi-final draw reflected, yet again, the truly global reach of the FIFA Interactive World Cup. The crowd's collective gaze was glued to the stage for the first semi-final between Francisco Cruz and Mark Azzi. Could the young Portuguese spring a surprise, or would the experience of the Australian, almost twice Cruz's age, prove the key to success? In an open contest throughout, Azzi had looked the more likely to make a breakthrough, but Cruz remained composed and eventually secured a dramatic 2-0 victory.

Anyone thinking the first semi-final couldn't possibly be topped in terms of excitement was swiftly proven wrong by the second semi-final duel between Adam Winster and Javier Munoz. Shots against the post, heroic saving tackles and breathtaking dribbles had the audience on the edge of their seats as Munoz ultimately booked his place in the final with a close 2-1 win.

Cruz control in the final
Ahead of the highly-anticipated final, Mark Azzi overcame Adam Winster 1-0 in the match for third place. Azzi received a USD1,000 cash prize for his effort along with some priceless respect from his Grand Final peers for his incredible showing at his first-ever Grand Final. Finally, it was time to crown a new king, From a field of over 870,000 participants, Francisco Cruz and Javier Munoz were left to decide the fate of the title. USA soccer legend Eric Wynalda and FIWC10 champion Nenad Stojkovic provided the match commentary for the finale.

Cruz employed every ounce of skill at his disposal. His incisive attacks, solid defence and ruthlessness in the box were complemented by a cool head which belied his tender years. The 4-1 final scoreline was convincing, though Javier Munoz also played his part in what several spectators claimed was the best EA SPORTS™ FIFA 11 match ever witnessed.