Barcelona's Gerard Pique organises inaugural Balloon World Cup

He may be a highly decorated footballer, but Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique also has a flourishing sideline in sports media production He has added a new string to his bow this week by helping to organise the world's first Balloon World Cup, joining forces with Spanish streaming star Ibai Llanos to stage the inaugural event in Tarragona, Spain, on Thursday.

If you're wondering precisely what the "Balloon World Cup" is and what it entails then wonder no longer: it's a game you've almost certainly played yourself at home.

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The idea stemmed from a series of videos that went viral earlier this year which featured three American siblings playing "balloon league" at home. The game will be instantly familiar to anybody who has found themselves attempting to juggle a balloon at a party: it basically involves two players attempting to volley a balloon around the room, each trying to prevent it from touching the floor.

The original Keep-Up Balloon League played host to some incredibly intense encounters between Oregon-based brothers Antonio (21) and Diego Arredondo (18) and their younger sister Isabel (15).

With furniture being acrobatically hurdled and obstacles desperately avoided, these epic inflatable battles spawned dedicated Instagram and Tik-Tok accounts with many of the videos being viewed millions of times each.

Thanks to Pique and Llanos, the humble Balloon League has evolved to play host to its first international tournaments, namely the Balloon World Cup.

Contested by 32 teams hailing from different countries all around the world, the knockout matches were fully officiated by a team of referees and took place on an official 8x8-metre (26x26-foot) court littered with household debris such as chairs, stools, tables, lamps -- plus a small car.

The rules are simple -- players must hit the balloon once and in an upward direction and points are scored when an opponent is unable to prevent the balloon from touching the ground -- and the game makes for compelling viewing.

Francesco de la Cruz of Peru eventually emerged as the first-ever world champion after fending off Germany's Jan Spiess in the final.

"I am very, very happy, I thank God that I have been able to achieve this," said De La Cruz while clutching the trophy presented to him by Pique and Llanos.

Balloon League pioneers Antonio and Diego Arredondo also took part in the World Cup by representing the U.S., but ultimately falling short in their bid to take the trophy home.

"We played the game as kids, and then, during the start of quarantine for COVID, we wanted to play it again," Antonio Arredondo told Reuters. "We started arguing with each other over if it hit the ground or not, so we started taking videos in slow-mo to see if it did, and then finally it got to the point of let's post this video of us on Tik-Tok.

"When I woke up the next morning it was completely viral, like a million likes, and then after that we just decided to keep playing and played more and more until one of our rounds got the attention of Ibai and Pique."

Pique, a World Cup winner himself with Spain back in 2010, was also thrilled at how well the inaugural Balloon World Cup played out.

"It's been amazing, it's something totally different, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and try new things," the 34-year-old said.

Scintillating stuff. Here's hoping we won't have to wait four years for the next one!