Lina Lehtovaara has been dreaming of this for 17 years. On Monday the Finnish official will referee the 2015 WU19 EURO decider between Spain and Sweden in Israel. These final tournaments, she says, can be as much of an emotional rollercoaster for the officials as they are for the players.
UEFA.com: What does it mean for you to be refereeing the final?
Lehtovaara: Everything. It has been my goal since I was appointed for these finals; I wanted to make the final. It's my third youth final tournament and my first final appointment, so it's third time lucky for me.
UEFA.com: When were you told that you had got the final?
Lehtovaara: We found out very late, about 1.30 in the morning, after the semi-finals. We all had our bags half-packed in anticipation of being sent to the airport, which isn't a nice feeling. So when my name was read out first it was a huge relief. After I heard my name, everything else was a blur. I had to check afterwards who I would have alongside me, as I just wasn't concentrating! It felt great.
UEFA.com: Were you confident you would stay on?
Lehtovaara: I had good games, and a good feeling about securing an appointment, but you can never be sure. We, the four remaining officials, are all in category one, which is the level just below elite. When you reach the elite stage you can referee women's senior internationals, World Cups ... the highest level. That's the next goal!
UEFA.com: How difficult has it been to make it this far?
Lehtovaara: It's not nice to be told you're going home; I know how that feels. In my first tournament, of course I did not expect to be refereeing the final, but the second time I was close and upset to leave. That was in England, back in 2013 for the women's under-17s. But maybe it was the kick I needed to work even harder.
Dagmar Damková [a former elite referee and now a UEFA Referees Committee member] told the girls who were leaving not to be discouraged, and that's important. After the disappointment and tears, you think about what you've learned at the tournament, and it's always a positive in the end.
UEFA.com: It sounds a bit like the experience for players …
Lehtovaara: It is. That's the game. Some stay, some go, until you're left with a small number. It's the same for referees.
UEFA.com: Is there a lot of competition between the match officials?
Lehtovaara: We all want one another to do well, mistakes affect all of us in some way. It would be silly to say someone is coming here without wanting to be in the final, you have to have a goal. But I want everyone to do well. We don't have the same competition as the teams, of course.
UEFA.com: How will you prepare for the final?
Lehtovaara: I won't change anything at this stage; I'll just do what I have been doing. There's no point changing things now. I've been refereeing for 17 years so I feel comfortable having had two good games here. I know the rest of my team quite well, they're all really experienced; we are really looking forward to it.
Final refereeing team
Referee: Lina Lehtovaara (FIN)
Assistants: Katalin Török (HUN), Biljana Milanova (MKD)
Fourth official: Eleni Lampadariou (GRE)
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