Alongside the participating countries at each UEFA final tournament there is always an additional team that bonds as a group and makes their own considerable contribution to the event's success – the squad of referees and their assistants.
At this week's UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship, two female referees, four assistant referees and a fourth official have joined forces and are savouring the moment as they take another important step along the career ladder. At their hotel just outside Nyon, the referees from across the continent have knitted together and are delighted to be part of a major European football occasion.
Ivana Vlaic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Vesna Budimir (Croatia) are the referees for the final round. They are accompanied by assistant referees Mathilde Abildgaard (Denmark), Lisa Rashid (England), Yelena Alistratova (Kazakhstan) and Yana Sashchyna (Ukraine), and fourth official Sandra Strub (Switzerland).
The two referees have been looking forward to the occasion with great anticipation. "I feel extremely proud to be here and to be representing my country," Vlaic, a 32-year-old professor of sport from near Sarajevo, told UEFA.com.
For both, it is recognition for the hard work and dedication they have put into their refereeing. "When you do something, you want to be the best and achieve good results," added Budimir, 33, a physical education teacher from Split.
Vlaic and Budimir played football at an early age and became referees after taking courses that left them with the idea and ambition that they had the ability to go further. They are unanimous in naming Pierluigi Collina, the distinguished former Italian referee who is now UEFA's chief refereeing officer, as a model and influence on their career.
They prepare for a game in different ways. "I like quiet, because it helps me to concentrate on the match – focus is very important," Vlaic explained. "I like to listen to music for a while, because it relaxes me, but once we are warming up and getting ready, it's full concentration for the match," added Budimir.
A European final round is bound to get the adrenaline flowing, both for the players and the referees, but the officials agree on the importance of getting the early decisions correct. "It helps your confidence," said Vlaic. "When I was a player, I always liked to have good early touches, because you then settle down into the game."
"There will be some nervousness when we line up before a match, but once it starts, it becomes a normal game like any other," said Budimir.
The four teams at the finals have their own targets and the happy refereeing group plan to share in a memorable experience this week – all of them determined to show their own strengths and qualities. They are all unanimous that the tournament will be another pointer on just how much women's football is developing from the youngest age level. "This will be a chance for young women footballers to show how the women's game is changing," said Budimir.
The team of referees in Nyon has one mission – to enjoy the limelight and make the most of UEFA's faith in them.
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