Real Madrid CF and Club Atlético de Madrid have been hard at work assessing each other, and keeping just as close an eye on matters have been the UEFA Champions League final match officials led by referee Björn Kuipers.
The Dutchman, following in the footsteps of compatriots Leo Horn, Charles Corver and Dick Jol in refereeing the European Cup final, will have the honour on Saturday night in Lisbon as the two Madrid rivals meet. And along with assistant referees Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra, additional assistant referees Pol van Boekel and Richard Liesveld, reserve assistant referee Angelo Boonman and Turkish fourth official Cüneyt Çakir, Kuipers will know the teams inside out.
"We really prepare a lot," Kuipers told UEFA.com. "I have seen their matches in the Champions League, and especially games between Atlético and Real – we saw the matches between them in the Copa, in the Spanish league, so we prepared very, very well. We have a video analyst who helps us a lot to get the right matches and the right pictures, the key players and the playing styles. So our preparation is from A to Z."
Like the players, stepping out on the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica pitch is the pinnacle for any referee and his team of assistants " It's an honour to be here, to be appointed for this unique Champions League final," Kuipers said. "I'm very proud, very happy with this fantastic Champions League final. I am very proud of the team, and we are looking forward to it."
The UEFA Champions League anthem playing is "what we call in the Netherlands a 'Kippenvel' moment, literally 'chicken skin'" Kuipers added. "It's a moment you will never forget, so you have to enjoy it."
This is far from Kuipers's first big final. A year ago he oversaw Chelsea FC's triumph over SL Benfica to win the UEFA Europa League at the Amsterdam ArenA, and in his first year as a FIFA official he handled the UEFA European Under-17 Championship final between Russia and the Czech Republic in Luxembourg. "Every step you take is a new one. And in 2006 it was the first year I became an international referee, so to start with a tournament, a final tournament, and to do the final was a big step, and it finishes here now at the Champions League final. So it's a great experience, you know."
His refereeing journey goes back even further than that, and there are a large group of people to whom Kuipers is thankful. "To many, not to one person but to many people," he said. "I started refereeing when I was 16, I'm now 41, so already a long time.
"So I'm not dedicating this final to one person, but to all the people who are there for me: my family, my friends, also the people who have worked with me in refereeing. So it's a great moment for everybody who stands with us."
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