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Mohammed Saeed Abdullah Al Ameri, standing, has been all smiles after his matches on Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 during the Million Player challenge at Abu Dhabi.
Mohammed Saeed Abdullah Al Ameri, standing, has been all smiles after his matches on Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 during the Million Player challenge at Abu Dhabi.

In Million Player Challenge, being all thumbs is a plus for the players

Gamers who congregated on Wednesday night at Abu Dhabi, mostly young Emiratis, have been pitting their PlayStation 3 skills against fellow competitors on Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 for the last two weeks, across the Emirates.

The hall at Emirates Park Zoo is modest. The rewards for those taking part in the latest round of Million Player will ultimately be, as the competition's name suggests, anything but.

The gamers who congregated on Wednesday night at Abu Dhabi, mostly young Emiratis, have been pitting their PlayStation 3 skills against fellow competitors on Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 for the last two weeks, across the Emirates.

Even UAE international Omar Abdulrahman took part in the early rounds of the tournament.

The competition was launched by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, in association with other UAE government agencies. It is the biggest of its kind in the world in terms of prize money, and is set to become a Ramadan fixture in the coming years.

Wednesday's kick-off time was set for 10pm, giving the competitors plenty of time to prepare after Iftar. The hall had eight stations, each connected to a flat-screen TV.

Three seats, for the two opponents and a referee, faced each screen.

Behind those sat the fans.

As the first set of participants took their seats, it became obvious which team most fans thought had the best chance of winning.

Real Madrid had a presence in every one of the match-ups. Games are often settled by one player with a high degree of skills; as in real life, it seems that Madrid have one or two of those. Not surprisingly, they were up against Barcelona in two digital Clasicos. There was even a Brazil v Real Madrid match-up. Intriguingly, there were three separate, loyalty-splitting Real Madrid v Real Madrid clashes as well.

A young gamer on Station 3 caught my eye with his nifty moves early on, and I decided to follow his progress.

"I usually play with Real Madrid or Manchester City," Mohammed Saeed Abdullah Al Ameri said.

"This time I decided to go with Madrid".

The Abu Dhabi resident, 21, did not disappoint, racing to a 5-0 half-time lead. I was starting to think this Cristiano Ronaldo everyone speaks off must be quite useful.

Poor Barca did not know what hit them, as Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Ronaldo deftly manoeuvred by Al Ameri, ran rings around Xavi, Andres Iniesta and a lumbering Lionel Messi.

"The reason I chose Real Madrid is that [in Pro Evolution Soccer] they can all play," Al Ameri would say later. "I try and rely on all the players, rather than use just one player."

No guesses as to who that "one player" might be.

"He does make more of a difference than anyone else," Al Ameri said, laughing.

"Ronaldo and [Karim] Benzema usually get most of my goals."

The match ended in a 9-0 humiliation for Barca.

New coach Gerardo Martino must be wondering what he let himself into. And if you thought that result was a bit far-fetched, I caught Fernando Torres celebrating a couple of goals against Real Madrid on Station 1.

Pro Evolution Soccer, it's a funny old game.

Elsewhere, the games were closer.

The other clasico was a more dignified affair for the Catalans, although they still went down 5-4.

The competition is now down to its last match day, to take place Tuesday. The standard of play should be higher still, but Al Ameri is in a confident mood.

"I've been playing for years, but I wouldn't say that I play every day," he said. "I don't really need extra practice for this competition."

The event might have registered fewer contestants than initially estimated, but few of those still in the running will care. That Dh1 million prize is now one step closer. The runner-up will walk away with Dh300,000 and third place pockets Dh100,000.

The finale will take place in fittingly opulent surroundings - Ferrari World on Yas Island.

When asked what he would do with a million dirhams, Al Ameri was typically and understandably cagey. This was no time to for complacency.

"Inshalla, if I win, all will be revealed," he said in time-honoured football-speak.

His eyes will be firmly on the big prize now. He will take each match as it comes. It's up for grabs now, and anyone can win it. As long as it's Real Madrid, of course.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

 

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