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.
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