After being crowned inaugural E-League Champion, we caught up with Sydney FC’s Samer “Samer96_” Elbadar to chat about his performance in the E-League, how he feels to be champion, and that crazy match against Melbourne City’s Marcus Gomes.

First thing’s first! How’s it feel to be E-League Champion?
To be honest, especially right after my game it felt amazing! We’d spent the last three months [at the E-League], travelling over every Thursday and competing. It just felt really good to finally lift the trophy and win the whole thing!

I saw you paraded the E-League trophy around Sydney FC’s active support area before the A-League semi-final got underway on the weekend! That must’ve been an awesome feeling?
Yeah, that was a really good experience as well! We [Marko and I] paraded the trophy around the stadium before the semi-final, and the cove got really involved in it! It was such a good experience.

You were chosen as the draft pick for Sydney FC, coming in off the back of Mark Brijeski being signed in January. Did that affect your desire in any sense to come in and give the league a real go?
I’d already known most of the guys that were going to be playing in the E-League from the competitive scene last year, so I knew what everyone was fully capable of, and I knew that it was going to be tough. I also knew that I could win the whole thing, though, and I did in the end!

You had some really good results throughout the league stages, though those last few weeks sitting in for Marko seemed to hurt your momentum a bit. Talk me through those couple of matches — especially against Dreamz where you were beaten 4-0. How difficult was it to readjust to a different console in such high pressure circumstances?
Going into that game, I recognised I had a bit more pressure on me because we were unbeaten at the time and I didn’t want to be the one that ruined the streak. I’d been practicing on Xbox for the games, and then I played the PlayStation game… I play PlayStation 4 usually at home, but it was just one of my off games really — it just didn’t go my way.

How’d you feel going up against Mo in the final game of the league stages? You knew you had to at least get a draw to seal the title for Sydney FC — it must have been nerve-wracking!
Yeah, hah! The final game I was up 2-0 and it was looking pretty secure, but I knew in [FIFA] anything can happen, and I needed to focus. Still, though, it was intense! Luckily I still managed to get the draw that we needed.

But yeah, I made it a lot more difficult than it probably should have been!

Did that affect your momentum at all coming into the finals?
To be honest I found it easier — in terms of the mental aspect of it — to play in the knockout rounds. Because you knew you just had to go in and worry about your game — there’s no aggregate, there’s nothing else taking away your focus. I found it a lot easier to just focus and play my game and try and win the match in the knockouts, whereas with the league if you’re playing second and you’re up on aggregate it changes your mentality and game plan. The opponent plays differently, too, and there’re just different factors [in the league competition].

So yeah, the knockouts were a lot simpler for me.

You guys finished first on the ladder, so you had it a bit easier than the other guys in the elimination stages. That said, all of your matches were really, really close, with some going into extra time! Talk me through those moments — how tense were you? Did you just try and stick to your normal game?
Yeah! My first game against Mitch [Austin] I conceded in the 90th minute [which tied the game up], and it went to extra time. I was heartbroken at that moment, but I knew I had to switch on and just focus, thinking ‘I can’t go out like this!’.

That game was really bad, I didn’t play well at all. So I guess it was lucky in the end that I got the win, and my games after that were much, much better. I played a lot better after that.

I don’t think a lot of viewers expected you to beat Marcus and go through to the grand final, but that was an absolute cracker of a match. How were your emotions going into the game, and how’d you feel after it?
A lot people don’t know about our [Marcus and I’s] past in the FIFA scene, but we have always had close games. It doesn’t matter whether he’s labelled as the favourite or whatever, but I knew that the game was going to be tough and it could go either way.

So going into it I was confident I could still win if I just played well and a bit of luck went my way, and that’s what ended up happening.

Did you need to readjust your game plan against Marcus, or did you try and stick to what you knew best?
Going into the game I stuck with my normal game plan, but after I went 1-0 down I had to change it up. I know that when Marcus takes the lead his play style is a lot safer, so I knew I had to go more attacking and press more. Luckily, it worked! 

Melbourne City’s Josh Wood took on Sydney FC’s Mark Brijeski in the console final on the PlayStation 4 side of things. As the latter was heavily favoured to win that match, did you expect you’d be taking on your teammate in the E-League grand final?
I actually expected to go up against Marko, but I guess it was easier to take on Josh and not verse my teammate in the end! It would have been a bit weird to play each other, but it was easier for me to just focus on getting the win against Josh. With Marko it probably would have been a bit more laid back, but yeah I definitely expected to verse Marko in the final and I was gutted when he lost, as we would have both been going to Amsterdam together for the [FIFA 18] Global Series Playoffs.

Going into the final against Josh, you knew you were two games away from taking the title – how were your nerves?
Yeah, I knew if I did well on the PlayStation 4 leg against him I’d have a good chance of winning as he doesn’t play Xbox. In the end that’s what happened!

How important was it, for you, to get those few away goals in the first leg? Even if you’d lost, was that your aim?
Once I knew that away goals were a thing, I knew I had to get a couple just in case. So I didn’t want to stay scoreless in that match, lose 1-0 or something. Even though he doesn’t play Xbox, he’s still a top FIFA player — the controller’s aren’t going to make that much of a difference.

I still didn’t really change my mentality all that much. I usually play PlayStation anyway, so it was just like a normal matchup for me — I just went into it to win like any other game, and I ended up winning that and the Xbox game as well.

You blitzed Josh in the second game back on your home console 4-0, and came away as a 6-1 winner. Talk me through those emotions you felt when you were up by a couple and knew you were most likely going to win!
During the Xbox leg I could tell he wasn’t comfortable playing, so the way I was playing shifted a bit. I was playing a lot more aggressively in the Xbox game [in that knowledge], as I could tell from the start that he wasn’t too comfortable on it at all.

And that’s the thing — I still think about that! I was up by three or four goals, and we were still in the middle of the game. I wasn’t celebrating any of my goals just in case, as I still had it in the back of my head that whenever I’ve celebrated my goals in the past I’ve ended up losing somehow. So I was just trying to stay calm and not think about it too much, and I wanted the game to be over already!

You’ve booked your spot at the FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs — what preparation are you going to be going through in order to prepare for the event?
I’ll definitely be playing a lot of Weekend League, and also having games against other E-League players for practice. That’s about it, really! I usually play PlayStation, but I’m going to move over to Xbox One for the next month seeing as I’m going to be competing on it.

And what now for you – if you had the chance, would you come back for another round of the E-League when a second season is (hopefully) announced? FIFA 19 should be an interesting beast!
Yeah definitely, definitely — it can’t come quick enough! I really hope it does continue for season two, and if I get the chance I’ll definitely want to be a part of it.