All eyes will be on Dutch 18-year-old Andries Smit when the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2008 Grand Final kicks off this coming Saturday at the Sony Centre in Berlin.
Admired by fellow FIFA 08 players across the world as one of the finest exponents of the game, not only did he win the last FIFA Interactive World Cup in front of his home fans in Amsterdam, he emerged victorious at this year's Dutch qualifying event. And Andries has no intention of stepping out of the limelight, as he revealed to FIFA.com: "I get a real buzz out of being a star."
Pressure and nerves
But despite the bravado, Andries knows that being the favourite has its drawbacks. "I'm the champ and everyone's looking at me," says the Den Haag teenager, who spends between 60 and 70 hours a week honing his console skills. "I feel under a lot of pressure because everyone is expecting me to win again."
Observers have been astonished by the speed at which Andries has adapted to the latest addition to the FIFA games series. "I thought it would be much tougher to adapt," says Andries, "but I seem to have a feeling for FIFA. I'm not really sure why." Of course he is hardly going to reveal the secret of his success just before Saturday's big showdown.
Andries or Chris?
The reigning champion does admit he needs to put in a little more practice before the Berlin event gets underway. With 32 of the world's best players competing, Andries will have to be at the very top of his game. "My biggest rival will be Chris Bullard," he says. "We know each other very well and our matches are always very even. I'd say one of us will take the title, and it could go either way."
The Englishman, three year's Andries' senior, is every bit as experienced as the defending champion, having won the world title in 2005 and safely negotiated his country's Live Qualifier Event to get to Berlin. "I have a lot of respect for him," says Andries. "And the feeling's mutual."
"I was so proud"
Smit can hardly wait for the Grand Final in Berlin to begin. The interactive areas are due to open to the public from 11am, while the 32 tournament finalists will be in action from 4pm onwards. Entrance is free and the Dutch star is looking forward to parading his interactive skills in front of a large audience.
Andries is also determined to share centre stage with the FIFA World Player of the Year once more, just as he did with Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. "That was an unbelievable feeling; I was so proud," he says. "I am taking part in this competition so that I can savour that experience again."
Brimming with confidence for the challenge ahead, Andries is still not averse to giving tips to fellow FIFA 08 aficionados. "The way to win is to go on the offensive. Keep pushing forward because it's easier to influence a game in attack than in defence." Will this positive approach see Andries to more glory? We will soon find out.