When Zuzana Kováčová blows the whistle to signal the start of Sunday's UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship final it will mark the latest step in a refereeing career that began almost my accident.
"I started refereeing in 2001," says Kováčová. "My brother Miroslav was a player and when he stopped playing he became a referee. One day he asked me if I wanted to be a referee. I told him I'd think about it but by the next day he had signed me up for a refereeing course. And now I'm here. He has since stopped but I've continued. All the men in my family were players so I have football in my blood."
Over the past 13 years Kováčová's refereeing has progressed stage by stage, and these days she combines her job as an insurance agent with UEFA appointments, the men's third tier and a few women's games in her native Slovakia. In this competition, too, it has been a steady progression – from qualifiers, to the 2007 finals as a fourth official, to the 2012 group stage and now the 2014 showpiece.
"I am very happy because every official dreams of a final," says the 35-year-old. "My appointment is also a sign of trust, that I've been doing well and am ready. Being a final there will be different emotions among the players – both sides are obviously desperate to win. I think it will be a very good match."
Kováčová has already refereed matches involving both final teams: the Netherlands' 0-0 opening-day draw with Norway and Spain's semi-final triumph over the hosts. "It has been a very nice tournament. I've had three matches and the weather has been really incredible. The heat! It was kind of a relief to have some heavy rain in my last game. But we all have to cope with the conditions, officials and players."
It is all a learning curve, for players, coaches and officials. So while she is not looking beyond Sunday, what is next for Kováčová? "I've got where I am now step by step because the more time you spend on a pitch the more you learn about the game. You must have that experience. This is not the last step, either. Maybe the next step is the Women's Champions League and in the future – why not the World Cup?"
2014 final refereeing team
Referee: Zuzana Kováčová (SVK)
Assistant: Petra Simmerová (CZE)
Assistant: May Moalem (ISR)
Fourth official: Marija Kurtes (GER)
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