On the 27th of September 2008, the European Finals of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 was held in the Westin Excelsior hotel in Rome. Twenty-eight players qualified from fourteen countries around Europe and were flown by Konami to Rome to participate in the most prestigious PES event. The United Kingdom & Ireland had four players representing them:
Mark "Marko9Gardinic" Gardiner (Scotland)
"UK Champion" (Scotland)
Farhad "Footimaster" Shah (England)
Gerard "NeoKubrick" Comerford (Ireland)
The opening ceremony and prelude to the tournament started at 8:40pm and we were all rushed to the Ludovisi room. It was a lavish room decorated with the finest; the only complaint one could was that they didn't spread out the tables a bit more. Once when we were all seated, the announcer (a very entertaining announcer) explained all the rules and waxed lyrically about and added gravitas to the tournament. Not too soon before we were on our feet again: he then ushered us off for a photo-shoot of the entire players in the hall of this luxurious hotel. The draw finally took place after we finished.
I got drawn in a group with the ESWC World PES champion, Sven "S-Butcher" Wehmeier (the German/Swede), the Polish champion, and the Russian champion, but Footimaster was put into the group of death with Jinxy (Belgium number one) and Bubaloo (Portugal number one) and the number one Xbox 360 player in France, sebMVP4. Marko was put in with a Spanish and Norwegian player and UK Champion, the second Spanish player along with the Swedish champion.
I dominated the first thirty minutes of my game against Sven "S-Butcher" Wehmeier, and had five gilt-edge chances to score and six corners, but a header from his first corner of the game demoralized me, and my keeper seemed to fumble the ball for fun after that. I knew I had a mountain to climb, because my goal difference would not stand up to the other two players if we drew on points.
Fortunately, I brushed past the Russian and Polish champion with ease, and I could have scored more in either match. The Russian was vocalizing his frustration a lot in the match and the Polish number one went bonkers with five minutes to go in our match and left the station; he was encouraged to return to the match to see it out but didn't even attempt to play.
S.Wehmeier 7 - 0 Gerard Comerford
Gerard Comerford 3 - 1 A.Duplyakov
Gerard Comerford 3 - 1 A. Olli
The UK players went through to the knockouts too, aside from a few bumps along the way, and made it a clean sweep for UK & Ireland.
I just had one of those games in PES. I went down three-nil and brought it back to three-two, and I had a chance to level but Ronaldo was an inch away from tapping the ball into an empty net. He then scored two goals in rapid succession (my goalie did have the sense to get sent off at the 60th minute).
Frustration and disappointment was common amongst the players from the UK except UK Champion: Footimaster and Marko went out of the competition by the cruel and cheap tactic of timeplay, where an opponent passes the ball around the back aimlessly until the final whistle. On the other hand UK Champion went through to the quarter-final only to be beaten by the eventual runner-up, WiDe.
The final was an all-German affair with Sven "S-Butcher" Wehmeier's deadly Brazil against Dennis "WiDe" Winkler's tactically efficient France. It was a very close game, and overall, you could argue that WiDe on balance of chances should have nicked it. It was two-two near the end and a glorious chance for WiDe opened up but the pass to the open player to tap it into an empty net was blocked and, in a common occurrence in PES, S-Butcher counter-attacked swiftly to score the winner. WiDe in the dying moments of the game in stoppage time had an opportunity and but for another excellent block by Butcher's defender would have sent it to extra-time.
1st - Sven "S-Butcher" Wehmeier
2nd - Dennis "WiDe" Winkler
3rd - Andrea "The Legend" Parisi
4th - Ludovic "Poyet" Luque
Thus ended a great event by Konami. The costs to pay all the expenses for the players, their guests, staff and media must have been close to a 100k in euros (and the media were well looked after: it'll be interesting to read reviews of PES from the journalists there). I had a great time with the UK lads: Footi, Irfy, UK Champion, Steven, Marko and Kev. The football games in the Stadio Dei Marmi on Friday were great even if I had to play for Sweden because I was the only Irish guy there, and was nicely finished off with dinner at the Stadio Olympico! The late kick-off of the tournament gave everyone a day to explore Rome, and it was wonderful to visit the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Roman forums and Pantheon, and the weather was nice too. I got to meet the legend that is Seabass (the creator of PES) and I got to represent my country; you couldn't ask for a better or greater weekend. Congratulations to S-Butcher and WiDe.