Cruz enjoys a night with the stars
© AFP

"Who would have thought that playing EA SPORTS™ FIFA would one day take me to the FIFA Ballon d’Or," said reigning FIFA Interactive World Cup champion Francisco Cruz sitting in Zurich, Switzerland mere hours after attending the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011 Gala.

With his victory at the FIWC11 Grand Final in Los Angeles, Cruz earned USD 20,000 in prize money and a priceless invitation to the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011 Gala. At the Gala, Francisco talked tactics with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, played EA SPORTS™ FIFA 12 against Wayne Rooney and Gerard Pique on a nearby PlayStation®3 and shook hands with superstars such as Lionel Messi, Xavi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Dani Alves. The morning following Francisco’s incredible night at the Gala, we sat down with the champion to discuss his VIP experience.

FIFA.com: This must have been an amazing experience for you. Does any specific moment stand out?
Francisco Cruz:
I can’t really say what my favourite moment was. All of it was incredible. Beating Wayne Rooney at FIFA 12 and talking to Sir Alex Ferguson were certainly highlights. And of course meeting Lionel Messi, my favourite player. There have been so many highlights, I have to watch out that I don’t forget anything!

What did you discuss with Sir Alex?
For me he’s a true legend. He has been with Manchester United for more than twenty years now so I was very happy that I had the opportunity to talk to him. We talked about the best ways to cope with mental pressure in tough games. This was really helpful for me and I’ll definitely try to apply his advice at this year’s Grand Final.

You mentioned your EA SPORTS™ FIFA 12 match with Wayne Rooney. What was it like to play against one of your idols?
It was just fantastic! He is a really good player and I had to give it my best. In the end I won 3-0, but the game was very close. Playing against him virtually and in real life at the same time was something that I will never forget!

You brought your cousin to the Gala. Was it difficult to choose who would accompany you?
My family is very important to me. For the 2009 Grand Final in Barcelona, where I placed third, I invited my sister. Last year, my father came with me to Los Angeles, so now it was my cousin’s turn. He’s just as crazy about football as I am, plus he’s a really good friend of mine.

Did you ever imagine that you would be part of such a special night when you first played the FIFA series?
No, not at all. It is still unbelievable. I mean, who would have thought that playing EA SPORTS™ FIFA would one day take me to the FIFA Ballon d’Or! And now here i am, among stars like Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney!

Is this day at the FIFA Ballon d’Or a strong motivation for you to defend your title?
I’m very competitive and I want to win every game. Of course, this day is very special for me and If I could be part of this once more it would be fantastic. I’ll definitely give my all and try to defend my title!