The UEFA European Under-19 Championship is a chance for some of Europe's top emerging talents to parade their prowess – and not necessarily just the players.
"It's a great opportunity for me to show my refereeing skills," said Norway's Tore Hansen, one of 17 officials selected for the final tournament. "I'm absolutely delighted to be here."
Already established domestically, and having gained valuable experience in UEFA matches, the officials are taking another step up at the final tournament. "Everything is laid out in a perfect manner here," added Enea Jorgji, from Albania. "We train in the morning, then we have meetings and receive feedback from the observers. UEFA really helps us a lot."
In addition to UEFA's tutelage, the referees help each other too. "It's like a family for us," said Hansen. "We love to get the support we can get, and there's nothing better than when it comes from your fellow referees.
"There is a massive cultural difference from one country to another, so each of us have our own experiences," explained Hansen. "We have a fantastic group. I've met some of the referees before in mini-tournaments, but we all blend into the group and we're having a brilliant time together. We can talk about anything and we're here to support each other. We're learning all the time from each other and the observers."
Ultimately, following in the footsteps of Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli, who recently oversaw the FIFA World Cup final, is a common ambition. Rizzoli subsequently declared there is nothing better than refereeing, and the officials at the U19 finals would concur.
"Refereeing is absolutely fantastic," said Hansen, himself a relative latecomer, starting out at the age of 28. "It develops you as a person. Obviously it's very challenging. You learn so much about working with other people. It's hard to imagine anything more challenging than being a referee. There's tremendous pressure, but we thrive on the pressure and we enjoy it."
Jorgji, like Hansen, chose refereeing over playing, and the 29-year-old has had no regrets. "I played football when I was young, but, because of my studies, I couldn't make it as a player, so my coach said: 'Why don't you try to be a referee?' That way I could still continue in the game in some manner. At the beginning, it was a bit of fun, but step by step, year by year, I found I enjoyed refereeing more and more, and now it's my life. I really didn't expect to be where I am now."
Having come this far, the officials are now itching to see where refereeing will take them next. Hansen added: "It's been an absolute adventure for me and I'm really looking forward to the next step."
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