Two years ago, Spain crashed out in the Round of 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, but on Saturday May 24, Alfonso Ramos gave his country a belated world title in the German capital.
The 19-year-old from Sama de Langreo won the fourth edition of the event in impressive fashion on Saturday and with it secured the title of FIFA Interactive World Player 2008 and US$ 20,000 in prize money.
"Without a doubt, it's the most beautiful day of my life," the clearly emotional winner told FIFA.com after a triumph that left him flushed with pride. The Spaniard dominated the Grand Final, which took place amid bright sunshine and perfect footballing conditions at the Sony Center on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz.
*Deserved win by Ramos * "Alfonso thoroughly deserved the title as he was the best among us - and not just today but also over the past three months. I wish him all the best and am really pleased for him," said Chris Bullard, who won the title three years ago. With a crowd of some 20,500 for his opening match against the new champion, Bullard must have realised it was not going to be his year after going down 3-2, Ramos playing confident football and displaying tactical nous throughout.
The Spaniard, who not only won his nation's qualifying tournament but also took top spot on in online qualifying, put down a marker right from the start with his win over Bullard. The Englishman failed to recover and along with Dutch defending champion Andries Smit sensationally failed to reach the knockout phase after only managing one win apiece in their group games. Ramos, meanwhile, was growing in confidence and earning more respect by the game, although not before he had his own setback to contend with.
In his second group match the eventual champion suffered a 6-5 defeat at the hands of one of the favourites, Brazilian Andre Buffo. "That only increased my motivation," said the Iberian after the award ceremony in which he received the new FIFA Interactive World Cup trophy. The Buffo reverse proved a turning point for Ramos, who came into the event as something of a dark horse. In the end he simply proved too powerful for the 31 other competitors, who, like Ramos, all claimed to be real life footballers as well. After that, the champion recorded wins over England's Max Fayers (4-2), Portugal's Pedro Caiado (3-1) and Switzerland's Tunc Polat (9-5) to power into semi-finals.
*Drama on the road to the final * In the presence of former Ghanaian international Anthony Baffoe, who was in Berlin as co-commentator for the event, the tournament rocked to the beat of performing German hip-hop artist Das Bo. On the wide stage of the Sony Center, the season's four best players, who had emerged from an initial field of 28,000 after an eight-month qualifying season across 20 countries, served up virtual football replete with technical and tactical finesse. Coincidentally, all four chose FC Barcelona as their team.
While Ramos showed his class in soundly beating 16-year-old Austrian Dominik Posch 6-3, making light of numerical disadvantage after an early dismissal, Michael Ribeiro (USA) came from two goals down to win 4-3 in the most dramatic game of the day against Brazil's Andrea Casagrande Buffo. Ribeiro, a 19-year-old from New Jersey, caught his South American opponent by surprise by deploying a sweeper, and in so doing managed to stylishly break up wave after wave of furious attack.
Posch, who in the quarter-finals had managed to overturn a 4-1 deficit to see off local German hopeful Marko Krivokapic 5-4, finally bagged third place, saying afterwards: "I'm proud to take the small cup back to Austria." Ramos, however, coveted the larger version and would not be denied.
In the Grand Final, where the tension in the Sony Center was such you could have heard a pin drop, 27 minutes went by without a real chance being created. When the first one finally arrived, the Spaniard took full advantage with Samuel Eto'o heading home following a corner. Then Thierry Henry's angled drive midway through the second half looked to have sealed it for Ramos, but Ribeiro sent on Bojan Krkic and he promptly scored to bring his team back into it. But another Henry strike in the 77th minute settled things in Ramos' favour, rounding out a 3-1 win and an unforgettable day for the champion.
As well as being crowned the new FIFA Interactive World Player, Ramos can now look forward to the FIFA World Player Gala (in Zurich next January), where he will stand shoulder to shoulder alongside the biggest stars of the real football world. For his part, FIFA Director of Marketing Thierry Weil said he was delighted with the Grand Final of the 2008 edition: "The event was a resounding success; the location was very good and the atmosphere was excellent throughout the tournament." Without a doubt, genuine World Cup fever was back in Berlin for the day.