When Marko Krivokapic turns up for weekly training with the 1. SC Feucht youth team, only a few of his teammates know he will soon be carrying German hopes in a world football competition. In the modest stadium just outside Nuremberg, only close friends of the 17-year-old know he qualified online for a place in the Grand Final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2008 - held on 24 May at Berlin's Sony Center.
"My mates always tell me how cool they think it is that a guy from Feucht has made it so far," Marko tells FIFA.com with a broad grin. They will be keeping their fingers crossed that he springs a surprise or two in the German capital when 32 of the world's best FIFA08 players come together.
Daily training for Berlin
Nerves are jangling more and more with each passing day and, needless to say, the same goes for Marko. Yet it is not just competing at the highest level which the young man is looking forward to. "It'll definitely be great to get to know all the players from right round the world. Hopefully my English is good enough to have a chat with them," he says, betraying a moment's doubt. But he quickly adds: "I'm sure we'll manage as everybody understands the language of football!"
He knows this only too well, as Marko not only scores hatfuls on the console but also goes hunting for goals in the real world. "Unfortunately, at the moment I can only train once a week as a pro as I am right in the middle of my apprenticeship as a retail sales management assistant. And on top of that I have to continue honing my skills for Berlin."
Friendship among rivals
Marko is putting his faith in improving his virtual game by having a training partner at his side. "We sit together and generally get through ten games or so per day, " he reports, adding: "I constantly try to improve. Often, I know in advance how my opponent is going to attack. That's one of my strengths."
But Marko does not see himself as one of the favourites: "I believe that Andries Smit and Chris Bullard must come to terms with that role. And I also think that Davor Brescakovic will be very strong."
Davor, a 20-year-old Swiss-based Croatian, flew all the way to New Zealand in order to qualify for Berlin. His story moved Marko so much he promptly sent him a message via FIFA.com: "Yeah, Davor! You did it. Congratulations and see you in Berlin!" As online qualifier Marko explains: "We don't know each other personally but we've often played against each other online. He's really good."
As regards his own qualification, Marko believes that it is "huge to have made it to Berlin". And though he only gives himself an outside chance of success, Marko nonetheless feels he is overdue "a win in a really major tournament". His elder brother and biggest fan, Milos, will also accompany him to the event: "He's 29 years old and is backing me all the way."
On 24 May, the interactive areas in the Sony Center in Berlin are set to open at 11am, the tournament itself kicking off at four that afternoon. Entrance is free and a huge crowd is sure to gather to join Milos in getting right behind his little brother and local flagbearer. For the 17-year-old from Feucht, the experience is sure to live in the memory for a very long time.