Aliyar Aghayev has told UEFA.com of his pride and surprise after the official from Azerbaijan was selected to referee Sunday's UEFA European Under-19 Championship final between Italy and France in Sinsheim.
"It's a very great honour, although I was a little bit shocked when I heard," said Aghayev, who has taken charge of two matches at the tournament in Germany and worked as fourth official at two more. "Referees want to get better and better. Since the start of the tournament it was my aim to make it to the final, and I'm so happy to have been given the chance to do that.
"This is a big achievement for modern refereeing in Azerbaijan. It's thanks to the support of my family and my chairman, and I'm very grateful for that.
"It's been a great tournament in a great country," Aghayev added. "The organisation has been wonderful. Germany is a great football country, there have been some top-class stadiums and all [the officials] have enjoyed working in front of such large crowds."
The 28-year-old from Baku has been a FIFA referee since 2013, the same year he started overseeing matches in UEFA competitions in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round. Aghayev also handled two games at the 2014 U17 finals in Malta, before making his UEFA Europa League group stage debut as a referee in December 2015, as Rapid Wien took on Dinamo Minsk.
He feels his time in Germany will be of long-term benefit, explaining: "I've learned a lot. The referee observers are very experienced, and they give us all the benefit of that. When we ask questions, they're there to help us as much as they can, which is really important for us."
The U19 final appointment is the culmination of a busy 2015/16 campaign for Aghayev. In addition to his UEFA Europa League commitments, he also refereed matches in UEFA Champions League qualifying, 2017 U21 qualifying and the UEFA Youth League, as well as fourth official duties at no fewer than six games at the U17 finals in his native Azerbaijan.
"I took lots of advice before the tournament, because it's another level for me," he said. "I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it, and I've done that. This final is a big match, but it's not the last match for me I hope! The aim is to improve all the time, with every game, and to get the chance to do more big games in the future."
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