England’s FIFA Wizzards Prepare To Take On The World

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Dave O’Grady reports from New York.

Mingling with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Kaká, Zidane and the biggest names in football is not something that happens every day. It is however a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the best FIFA gamers in the world. Just ask 2015 FIFA Interactive World Cup champion Abdulaziz Alsheri, whose dream came through last January when he spent time with these famous names at the FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony.

“I still can’t believe that I was sitting with Kaká in a customised limousine, driving through Zurich and playing against him in FIFA! It felt like a really cool dream come true,” said an ecstatic Alsheri who later that night saw Barcelona’s Lionel Messi capture a historic fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Four Englishmen now hold similar dreams and ambitions, but more important for them is the chance to gain the prestigious title of being the best FIFA gamer in the world. Oliver Chesses, Ty Walton, Dean Coombes and Demetri Anastasiou will fly the flag for England when the FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final hits the Big Apple in a few days time.

Unfortunately, like Roy Hodgson’s men, England’s luck at this FIFA event has been scarce. Since the competition began back in 2004, only one Englishman has been crowned champion. It happened 11 years ago when Chris Bullard, like Bobby Charlton and the heroes of 1966, became a world champion on home soil.

This year, having come through the extremely challenging FIFA UK qualifiers, England’s four hopefuls along with the 28 other finalists will soon be able to plot their passage to the final when the group stages are drawn on Sunday.

Emerging from over two million FIFA players worldwide that took part in the qualifiers, the road to New York couldn’t be more different for the four lads. In fact, 21-year-old Oliver Chesses didn’t even like football growing up. Coming from a golf-mad family in Manchester, it was only after he watched Steven Gerrard’s incredible display in the 2005 Champions League final that he picked up a Playstation controller and gave EA Sports’ most successful game a shot.

“When I was young, I actually hated football. All my friends were playing it but I had no interest at all. I would play other sports like golf and tennis. But I remember watching the great Liverpool comeback in the 2005 Champions League final and seeing Steven Gerrard play. It was the first time I properly watched football and completely fell in love with the sport”, the University of Leicester student told BenchWarmers.

“I then started playing the FIFA game and did a career mode with Celtic and ended up supporting Celtic in real life because of it. Although I soon realised that it wasn’t cool for an English lad to support Celtic so I changed my team to Birmingham City”, Chesses joked.

Ty Walton, who hails from the midlands, is a two-time UK FIFA champion. He’s almost a seasoned veteran at this stage having qualified for numerous world championships. However, just like his heroes in white, he has experienced the familiar heartbreak of being eliminated on penalties.

“Back in 2012, I made it to the quarter finals of the FIWC final in Dubai only to lose on penalties. It was very tough to take. You go through all the same emotions that the real players experience. I still remember everything about the game. I scored first and it calmed my nerves and I was just playing my game. But then I conceded really late on so it eventually went to penalties and I got beaten. It was heartbreaking”, stressed the 22-year-old Redditch student.

Demetri Anastasiou is the underdog of the four English participants. The 21-year-old West Ham fan has been involved in two previous FIFA competitions in the USA but never won a single game. The Londoner is taking a very relaxed approach and sees himself in bonus territory after qualifying for the Grand Final for the very first time.

“I don’t really have that much expectation going to New York. I’ve barely played the game since I found out I qualified back in November, but I’ll see how it goes. Hopefully with a bit of good fortune I can do well in the tournament. I’m a massive underdog so the pressure is on pretty much everyone else who plays me”, said a quietly confident Anastasiou.

England’s final representative, 22-year-old Dean Coombes from Liverpool, is high on confidence going to New York. This is the second time he’s qualified for the FIWC Grand Final and after finishing 8th in last year’s tournament in Munich, the Anfield season ticket holder is aiming to go a few steps further.

“Last year was the first time I’ve been to the Grand Final. It was such a huge event so I was quite nervous and it was probably one of the hardest line ups they’ve had in a couple of years. I finished in 8th place, so it was a real confidence boost. But I’d like to go on further this year”, Coombes revealed.

The most talented FIFA players will battle it out on Monday with the FIWC final taking place on Tuesday at New York’s splendid Apollo Theater. A competition which began with over 2 million participants worldwide has been reduced to just 32.

The 2016 FIFA Interactive World Cup is the first to be played on the two most popular gaming consoles, the XBox One and Playstation 4. The winner will pocket $20,000 while also winning a VIP trip to the FIFA Ballon d’Or to hang out with football’s biggest stars.