Julia-Stefanie Baier says she was "completely overwhelmed" at being chosen to referee the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship final - and the Austrian match official says that the tournament has reflected the massive progress of European women's football.
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The referee team for Sunday's UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship final has been announced, with Austria's Julia-Stefanie Baier awarded the honour of officiating the showpiece between Germany and Spain in Pilsen.
With a team made up of assistants Alexandra Theodora Apostu from Romania and Lithuania's Ieva Ramanauskiene, together with fourth official Meliz Özçiğdem from Turkey, Baier is preparing for one of the biggest games of her career, and a stepping stone towards even more.
"I'm definitely very proud," said the 28-year-old to UEFA.com. "I was delighted and completely overwhelmed when I found out – I cannot even describe it."
With a background teaching music and fitness, Baier discovered her passion for refereeing after a few years playing football for her local team. She is grateful for the encouragement that she has received along the way.
"Definitely the development work being carried out with referees in Austria is fantastic," Baier said. "We get more and more help through mentors, coaching and seminars – everything is there for us."
Just as it has been for all the officials based in Pilsen over the past few weeks, receiving close support, training and guidance from UEFA. "At the moment, what matters to me is that I am gaining experience internationally as a referee, step by step, progressing and establishing myself. Certainly there are no obstacles placed in our way and we get support, so if a woman in Austria wants to be a referee, she will receive support."
Baier has garnered all this support to nurture her passion, learning by the day and pursuing a dream.
"The big dream of taking part in a European Championship or World Cup is not something exclusive to the players," she said. "It would certainly be a dream of mine to referee at another big international tournament at some stage, and to be part of it – I think every referee dreams of that."
"When you see those occasions on the television, you really get goosebumps and say 'I want to be there too'. But as I said, it is a long way to go for us, there is a lot to learn and the most interesting thing for me as a referee is that you learn something new every day.”
“You can't expect things to be the same each time – the most important motto for us is 'expect the unexpected' and for me the most important thing is, hopefully, taking small steps forwards.”
"Not everybody can make it, and we've got to recognise that, but it's a dream and it would be extremely wonderful to get there."
Women’s refereeing is developing apace alongside the women’s game. "Definitely I will go away with memories of some very good women's football here," Baier said. "Technically and physically, the players have improved a great deal and there are some great players here. I will definitely look back on this tournament and see that women's football has developed greatly."
She will be able proudly to say the same about herself after officiating in Sunday's final.