The inaugural FIFA Interactive World Cup came to a dramatic conclusion as 21-year-old Thiago Carrico de Azevedo from Rio de Janeiro held on to win the final at FIFA House in Zurich. His French side saw off a strong challenge from the AC Milan team of USA finalist Matija Biljeskovic to clinch the title with a 2-1 victory.
He was congratulated, along with the other seven finalists, by Dr Urs Linsi, FIFA General Secretary, and will collect his winning trophy alongside the finest footballers in the world at the FIFA World Player Gala on Monday night. Thiago said after the final: "I can't wait to get up on the same stage as Ronaldinho - he's one of my heroes."
Over the last three months the FIFA Interactive World Cup has brought people together in nine countries and six continents in a bid to find the world's best player of EA SPORTS' FIFA 2005 on Xbox. Players have travelled from far and wide to attend the regional tournaments and the standard of play has been exceptionally high.
From the kick-off of the first event in Johannesburg to the final whistle of the final in Zurich, the events have provided fun, entertainment and competition to thousands of gaming fans and football fans across the globe. The spirit of the competition has been wonderful and there can surely be no other sporting arena where you will see boys and girls, men and women, of all ages and nationalities competing together on a level playing field.
With the recent announcement of South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Johannesburg was the perfect place to launch the first ever FIFA Interactive World events.
The South African players were tremendously skilful and their enthusiasm for football of all kinds made for a great event. Benson Mhlongo, the youngest ever South African national team captain, was one of the FIFA Interactive World Cup's first visitors and he clearly agreed with FIFA's decision to embrace the virtual world of football with the help of EA SPORTS and Xbox: "Real footballers and gamers have a lot in common. It's all about patience, interest and fighting spirit and has a lot to do with the love of the game. It's great because kids fall in love with football by playing these games."
Next stop was New York where the General Secretary of CONCACAF and FIFA Executive Committee Member, Chuck Blazer, saw Matija Biljeskovic of Illinois fight off a strong Mexican challenge from Carlos Briseno in the best regional final of the whole competition - Matija winning after ten penalties each in a shoot-out!
Mr Blazer was also full of praise for the new event: "It was a really exciting day and everyone I have seen has had a great time. It is an excellent platform to bring gamers into football and today's final was like watching a real game. It is a fantastic competition and I think it has a great future."
The FIFA Interactive World Cup then moved on to samba territory as the beach football of Rio provided the backdrop for the Brazilian event. The Brazilian style of play was evident in the virtual world as these gamers were not just looking to win but to do it in style - and have a great time doing it!
More beaches loomed as Australia's best gamers looked to put their country's recent FIFA World CupTM disappointments behind them at the Sydney event. The final united two guys who had competed against each other many times online on Xbox Live but had never met - Shane Magee triumphing over Stephen Coorey when it really mattered. This was something that we saw all around the world as online friends and rivals met up to battle it out head-to-head.
London was the first of the three European events that saw gamers from all over the continent come together to compete for the right to represent Europe in Zurich. Qualifying tournaments were run in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Holland and Belgium among others to ensure that the gaming elite were all present at the regional tournaments.
London winner Paul Gordon loved the chance to play and compete to the live sounds of the renowned Hip-Hop DJ as Tim Westwood performed at the event and Paul was delighted with his day: "It's fantastic to have won today and now I can't wait to win the final! This is a great event and I've had an awesome time."
The Paris and Berlin events saw one away win and one home win as Italian Massimiliano Lucchese took the crown in France but Kai Kretschmann held off a strong challenge from the English to take the event in Berlin for the Germans.
The Korean event brought an international football event back to Seoul for the first time since the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and the people embraced the event with the same fanaticism that made that tournament such a success. The standard was extremely high with many of the players playing professionally and the final stages were unbelievably tight, eventual winner Yoon Seo Park paying tribute to all the other gamers and revealing, "I feel very lucky to have won and am excited about representing Asia in Zurich."
The FIFA Interactive World Cup, presented by EA SPORTS and Xbox, has provided an arena for gamers all around the world to meet and compete and celebrate the virtual world of football. The Final in Zurich was a testament to that as players from eight countries and six continents revelled in the chance to swap tricks, tactics and ideas and compete with their peers from around the world.
Football gaming provides a great way to bring young people into football and generate a love and appreciation for the game at an early age and FIFA are committed to making that happen.