The standard of refereeing at the Under-19 finals in Estonia has brought praise from all quarters, with efforts being made to fine-tune and encourage the young officials.
The 11th UEFA European Under-19 Championship is already being hailed as one of the best ever in terms of on-field excitement, player quality and the standard of refereeing.
Jozef Marko, a member of the UEFA Referees Committee here at the finals, hailed the organisational efforts of both the Estonian Football Association (EJL) and UEFA for the success of the first-ever UEFA international tournament to be played in this country, and had special praise for the match officials.
"The UEFA referees chosen by the Referees Committee have already showed their class," he said. "They are quite experienced and are two or three years or more into their international careers. It is not just the UEFA Referees Committee who are happy with them – even the team officials have given their approval with the standard this year."
The 16 match officials and referee observers have been in regular contact via meetings and briefing sessions at their base in Tallinn and, according to Marko, are gaining as much valuable experience at the tournament as the players. "The referees have regular fitness sessions while we also have video sessions where we evaluate their performances," the Slovak explained.
"This tournament has proven a very demanding one as, not only is a top European title at stake, three teams from each group can also qualify for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. We stressed to the referees here to be careful and very attentive because every goal, every card can be decisive to the outcome of these matches."
However, the focus for Marko is on encouraging rather than intimidating the officials. "We try to discuss where improvements can be made, while we also show them good decisions that they made," he said. "It is not our aim to show them only mistakes. We try to support the referees and to work with them on their improvement as much as possible."
Dutch referee Danny Makkelie and Italian counterpart Paolo Valeri are both thriving in Estonia. "The standard of play has been very good," Makkelie said. "From the positioning to the passing and the strength of the players, the standard is very high." Valeri added: "I refereed the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal and that was a fantastic match. We will certainly see some players here at the very top level soon."
Makkelie also feels that referees can instil good habits in future stars at this level. "It is a case of trying to teach them out on the pitch – of showing them the way," he said. "You must think more about education and telling the players what is right and what is wrong."