Mohamad Al-Bacha is 17 years old and he’s too young to legally drive in his home country of Denmark, but he’s better than you at FIFA.
He’s better than your neighbor. He’s better than your best friend. He’s better than anyone you’ve played online.
In fact, he’s the best player in the world and he has a shiny crystal trophy to prove it.
Al-Bacha advanced through the quarterfinals of FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final on Monday, then won the Final Showdown at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on Tuesday thanks to a furious comeback in the second leg of the championship round.
When the Danish teenage FIFA wizard trailed 3–1 and 5–3 on aggregate to England’s Sean Allen, the match—and the accompanying trophy, $20,000 in prize money and ticket to the 2016 Ballon d’Or ceremony—seemed all but lost.
“I was thinking a bit, ‘This game is over,’” Al-Bacha said, “but unfortunately for him the game is 90 minutes. It’s not 45 minutes and I scored two goals within two minutes that made me become a world champion.”
His goal in the 88th minute sent the crowd into a tizzy. The majority of the 28 grand finalists who were eliminated during Tuesdays’ competition very literally jumped out of their seats. Some ran to the stage in jubilation as the mere possibility of an equalizer in the final two minutes fueled their unbridled emotion.
For the first time in FIFA Interactive World Cup history, the championship was decided on the industry’s leading consoles—PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The championship round was split into two legs.
Each leg would be played on a different console, with the higher ranked finalist deciding the order. Sean Allen was a last-minute tournament fill-in. A week ago, Allen had no idea that he would be flying to New York in place of another player who couldn’t make the trip. He choose to start the championship on PlayStation 4, despite never having played on the console before Tuesday night’s match.
After scoring 23 goals in his first six matches of the tournament, Allen played to a 2–2 draw on PlayStation 4. Playing with fan-favorite Brazil, Allen clawed back from two one–goal deficits, equalizing twice to secure a draw with Al-Bacha.
In the second match, Allen took a 3–1 lead, good for a 5–3 advantage on aggregate. Because away goals serve as a tiebreaker, Al-Bacha needed to match Allen’s three goals to win the tournament.
Down two scores, Al-Bacha, a fiery competitor whose passionate celebration on one goal nearly broke the trophy, was sullen.
He set his controller on the ground, folded his hands and briefly closed his eyes.
Hassan Al-Saraf knew the equalizer was coming. He has seen his best friend, Al-Bacha, score four goals in 10 minutes of FIFA time (approximately one minute or so in real time) against one of the best players in Germany. Al-Saraf has been on the other side of Al-Bacha comebacks. On countless occasions he has held a lead before Al-Bacha comes from behind to claim a victory.
“I just said, ‘You’ve done it before, you can do it again,’” Al-Saraf said. “When he shook his head to me, I knew he was going to do it again.”
With the 90 minutes almost up, Al-Bacha changed formations and made substitutions. He got one goal. Then, on a free kick in the 90th minute, he scored the game–tying goal, sending the Apollo Theater into a frenzy.
The full celebration was delayed—there was still time left on the clock—but the goal proved to be the tournament winner.
Al-Bacha set his controller on the table in front of him, danced to the edge of the stage and fell into the hands of four of his fans waiting below. The group hug lasted nearly 30 seconds before the real fun began.
After being awarded his trophy, the Dane lifted it from his knees to above his head, Lion King-style, while unleashing a yell. He couldn’t have cared less that the trophy had been awarded to him by New York City FC star David Villa.
Allen, the last-minute replacement, was in shock. He stood on behind a pillar on the stage—out of view of the packed crowd of the theater, but in position to see Al-Bacha reveling in his victory.
“Devastated,” Allen said. “Absolutely devastated.”
The Englishman’s plan was to put the ball in Al-Bacha’s defensive corner and run out the clock to a 3–2 victory. Mere seconds were the difference between a title and crushing defeat.
“This is like five seconds real time,” Allen said of Al-Bacha’s game-winning goal. “Like if I boot the ball into his corner I’ve won it.”
Then, with Allen watching, came Al-Bacha’s interviews with press and a photo opportunity with a credit card. That credit card, or more likely a smaller version of it, is worth $20,000.
The prize money couldn’t have come at a more convenient time. Al-Bacha’s 18th birthday is around the corner, and he is in the market for a car.