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Rare 'double' for Under-21 final referee Kruashvili

Giorgi Kruashvili achieves a notable refereeing feat when he takes charge of Sunday’s European Under-21 Championship final between Germany and Portugal.

Giorgi Kruashvili -"A huge moment in my career"
Giorgi Kruashvili -"A huge moment in my career" UEFA via Getty Images

The big game in Ljubljana will be the 35-year-old Georgian’s second European final. This time around, he will be the man in the middle with the whistle, handling matters on the field. On the first occasion, in 2011, Kruashvili was on the touchline with a flag, acting as assistant referee at the European Under-17 Championship final between Germany and the Netherlands in Novi Sad, Serbia.

These two major assignments in different refereeing roles serve as a tribute to Kruashvili’s ability and versatility. “It means that I have a good first-hand understanding of what it means to be an assistant referee and the various aspects of that role within the refereeing team,” the Tbilisi-born official explains.

“I changed from being an assistant referee to a referee in 2013, because I wanted a new challenge. While I was an assistant referee, I was also refereeing lower-league matches in Georgia at the same time. I actually found that I felt more comfortable being in the middle, on the pitch, than on the touchline. I think that, in my heart, I wanted to become a referee. It was a big challenge to change roles, but I’m pleased that the progress I have made has led to the appointment for this final.”

Key career moment

"You can play a big part if you manage situations well" -  Giorgi Kruashvili
"You can play a big part if you manage situations well" - Giorgi KruashviliUEFA via Getty Images

Sunday’s event in the Slovenian capital’s Stadion Stožice is a key moment on Kruashvili’s career pathway since he gained his international badge in 2015.

“It’s hard to put into words, I still feel very excited,” he says. “I was actually at the airport, going back to Georgia after refereeing Monday’s [Under-21] quarter-final between Spain and Croatia, when I got the call telling me I would be taking charge of the final. I felt quite emotional about it, but I couldn’t let my emotions out too much – there were too many people around me!

“It really came as a surprise. I’m particularly proud of representing my country in such a high-level match.”

Georgian pride is fourfold – Kruashvili will be accompanied in Ljubljana by three compatriots in assistant referees Levan Varamishvili and Zaza Pipia, and fourth official Irakli Kvirikashvili. “We consider ourselves as a single entity at a match,” he explains. “We all judge our performances as the performance of a single team.” The Georgian quartet will be joined by reserve assistant referee Aleksandar Kasapović from Slovenia.

Feeling the game

Kruashvili says that a good referee should not only have a feeling for football, but also be able to feel the emotions of players and coaches taking part in a match. “It’s important that you try to understand what they’re feeling at a given time – for example, when they’re angry or frustrated – because you’re a ‘manager’ on the field, and you can play a big part if you manage situations well. You have to have a certain mental strength to be able to handle different kinds of people.”

Ahead of the final, Kruashvili predicts that although he will be fully tuned in mentally to the task ahead, he will probably have a moment of ‘goosebumps’ when he lines up with the two teams and his colleagues. “But once I blow the first whistle, that will all pass, and the match is all that will matter.”

There will be many positive thoughts in Kruashvili’s mind in the run-up to the Under-21 final – for his family, particularly his seven-year-old son, following the game back home in Georgia – and all those who have been instrumental in bringing him to this special point in his refereeing life.

“It’s a huge moment in my career, and I’d like to thank everyone – observers, instructors and refereeing colleagues, in Georgia and internationally – for helping me to get to this stage. They’ve all given me crucial advice and encouragement, and I’m extremely grateful to them. After this match, I would like to reach the elite levels, and I will work twice as hard to do so…”