The 2013 UEFA European Under-19 Championship is providing an important daily learning curve for the match officials working at the final tournament in Lithuania.
Orel Grinfeeld and Martin Strombergsson (c) uefa.com
Besides nurturing the future of Europe's footballing talent, the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final round also provides the tournament's referees with an important opportunity to hone their own developing skills.
Jozef Marko, a member of the UEFA Referees Committee attending the finals, said he has been particularly impressed by the standard of officiating at this, the first U19 championship to be held in Lithuania.
"The referees have already shown their qualities and based on those they have been selected for this tournament; the process is very simple," he said. "The referees here are not beginners. The majority of them have been on the FIFA list for four or five years and have proved their quality over a period of time."
The match officials are in daily contact at their base in Kaunas, with meetings and briefings organised by the Referees Committee as well as physical training regimes forming a significant part of their learning curve. "We arrange several seminars for them and show DVDs while issuing methodological information," Marko continued. "We observe their progress. Many of the referees are going step by step. Some have officiated at Under-17 level or at other tournaments as well as UEFA club competition matches. The process is to follow and increase their quality.
"The main points here in Lithuania are to teach the referees to reach a high level of interpretation of the Laws of the Game," Marko explained. "Protecting the health of the players and the image of the game are also important points on the road to reaching the level required by UEFA."
Taking time out from this busy schedule, two of the referees, Israel's Orel Grinfeeld and Martin Strömbergsson of Sweden told UEFA.com that their experience so far has been both enjoyable and highly informative. "Being here represents a great opportunity and it's a big step in my career," Grinfeeld said. "I was in Serbia a month ago for the elite round but this is my first time at an Under-19 championship. For us it's very important to learn at such a high-level tournament and you learn something new every day."
Strömbergsson agreed, adding: "We talk about respect here all the time, and I mean everyone, from coaches and players to the referees. There are very good player-referee relations here. My first match at the finals was the game between hosts Lithuania and the Netherlands and my feeling was that there was a lot of fair play between the teams."
Dovetailing with the constant fine-tuning of referees' on and off-field skills is their own personal desire for progress, with this event helping to highlight what could lie ahead for them in the near future. "My dream is to take the next step and referee a UEFA Champions League match," Strömbergsson said. "I love football and watch that tournament all the time."
An appearance at a UEFA EURO, meanwhile, figures prominently on Grinfeeld's refereeing wish list. For now, though, both are thrilled to carry on learning at the 12th UEFA European U19 Championship.
Kulbakov considers the Under-19 EURO final as a "very important moment" in his career.
Opland, Kulbakov, Broughton and Zwayer (c) uefa.com
Aleksei Kulbakov has been selected to referee the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final, the culmination of a rewarding two-week period for the Belarusian official.
Aleksei Kulbakov is anticipating a "very important moment" in his career having been chosen to referee the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final between France and Serbia.
Fully focused on Thursday's showpiece in Marijampole, the 33-year-old Belarusian expressed his gratitude at being selected to officiate in the encounter, with his pride shared among the refereeing team – assistants Dermot Broughton of the Republic of Ireland and Leif Eric Opland from Norway and German fourth official Felix Zwayer.
"To be part of the refereeing team along with Dermot, Eric and Felix is both a big honour and a pleasure," Kulbakov told UEFA.com. "It's a very important moment in our refereeing lives. Every referee here at the tournament formed a great group. We were from countries all over Europe but spoke only one language, the language of football."
From their base in Kaunas, all of the match officials in Lithuania have received daily briefing sessions and fitness workouts which have formed part of an important learning process during the finals. "These past two weeks we have worked very professionally and in an in-depth manner while trying to improve ourselves as people and as referees," Kulbakov said.
"We had really excellent physical and practical training with our coach while receiving highly informative analysis from our observers. We discussed a lot of situations with regard to reading the game. I can now take this information and these ideas back home with me and share them with my Belarusian refereeing colleagues."
Agreeing that the standard of football has been particularly high, Kulbakov said that the players and the Lithuanian public had combined to create a unique sporting event played in a warm atmosphere.
"Obviously the players here are all around 19 years old yet you can already see that many of them will be stars of the UEFA Champions League in the future," the referee explained. "We have also seen a lot of spectators here, even when Lithuania have not been playing, which goes to show the interest there has been in the tournament. This is a beautiful country where the people have been always willing to help us."
Having studied closely a recording of the finalists' 1-1 Group B draw last week, Kulbakov said his team of officials are expecting a different type of match. "This is a final and, as such, is a special game," he said. "We watched the sides' previous game but realise the next one will not be the same. We just want to concentrate and be prepared for any eventuality that may arise."
published on UEFA.com