German referee Markus Merk will be in charge of tomorrow's UEFA EURO 2004™ final between Portugal and Greece, but the official and his assistants are unfazed by the responsibility.
"There is no special preparation for a final," said Merk, during the first-ever referee press conference before a UEFA European Championship final. "As a referee, you have to be prepared 365 days a year, both physically and mentally. There is no difference between a second-division match, a Bundesliga game or the EURO final – although this is a special match, you don't have to do anything special. We are prepared, concentrated and happy for kick-off tomorrow."
Merk knows what he is talking about. He officiated at the 2003 UEFA Champions League final between Juventus FC and AC Milan, in addition to the opening game and one of the semi-finals at UEFA EURO 2000™.
However, this experience hasn't spared Merk from media comments about his links to compatriot and Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, which have included rumours about the referee, a practising dentist, being Rehhagel's family practitioner. "Otto Rehhagel was never my patient, and even if he was, I've had 5,000 patients in my life, including lots of Greeks and Portuguese," said Merk.
He added: "That is not important; what is important is that in our minds we know only one thing: fair play. Every referee has matches in foreign countries with players and coaches he knows, so that is nothing unusual. When I go on to the pitch there are always players in front of me who are more my friends than others. I have to be neutral and think about fair play."
Merk, who will referee the final together with his assistants Jan-Hendrik Salver and Christian Schräer, and with Anders Frisk as his fourth official, also spoke of his joy at being selected for the showpiece. "The final is the highest peak you can reach in your career," he said. "It is a very impressive moment and a great pleasure to have this honour. Everyone wants to be in the final, be it the players or the officials."
When asked if he was surprised to see Greece fighting for the title, Merk replied: "I congratulate both teams for reaching the final. But for us there are always two teams with different colours."
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