Damir Skomina is proud at being selected to take charge of the UEFA Europa League final, and the Slovenian referee says his team are determined to perform to the best of their ability.
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Damir Skomina is treating his latest assignment – Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in Stockholm – with the focus that has taken him to the refereeing summits.
The 40-year-old father of two from Koper, on Slovenia's Adriatic coast, close to the borders with Italy and Croatia, described his appointment for the game as "a great honour".
An international referee since 2003, Skomina will be joined at the Stockholm match by five compatriots – assistant referees Jure Praprotnik and Robert Vukan, additional assistant referees Matej Jug and Slavko Vinčić, and reserve assistant referee Tomaž Klančnik. Fourth official Gianluca Rocchi from Italy completes the refereeing team.
Skomkina has been a regular in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for several years, and is clearly used to big occasions.
He took charge of the 2012 UEFA Super Cup match between Chelsea and Atlético Madrid, as well as the 2007 European Under-21 Championship final featuring the Netherlands and Serbia, and was fourth official at the 2013 UEFA Champions League final, which brought together German rivals Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München. In addition, he was in the refereeing team for UEFA EURO 2012 and UEFA EURO 2016.
He began refereeing in 1992 at the age of 16. "I played football," he reflects, "but when I was 15, I was told by doctors to stop because they thought I had a health problem. But then, at the age of 21, they told me that they had made a mistake, and that I could play again if I wanted – but it was too late, I was already refereeing!"
The referee team will prepare for the UEFA Europa League final in the dressing-room with music playing in the background – "We have a choice of music that we like," Skomina says. Focus and motivation will be total as the kick-off approaches.
"When I'm refereeing a match and I'm standing in the line [with the teams]," he adds, "I don't think of anything else – I'm focusing on the match to come."
Part of a top referee's match preparation now involves studying team tactics and players' characteristics – an innovation that Skomina welcomes whole-heartedly. "If you prepare well like this," he stresses, "you give yourself a better chance of being successful."
The referee team in Stockholm will also be very much aware that they will be helping to protect football's image on the field. "UEFA has had a strong slogan of Respect for some years now," Skomina explains, "and many young people watch the game. It is important to set an example to these young people."
Skomina and his colleagues are determined to perform to the very best of their ability on Wednesday night. "We are a team along with the two teams playing," he emphasises.
"We will be encouraging each other, and giving each other the feeling 'I'm there for you' – and we will be doing our very best to succeed as a team in this important match."