Anastasia Pustovoitova was a Russian international as a player - and a successful switch to refereeing now sees her looking forward to taking charge of Saturday's UEFA Women's Champions League final between Lyon and Barcelona.
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Swapping a career as a player for that of a referee hasn’t proved an obstacle to success for Anastasia Pustovoitova – who takes charge of Saturday’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Barcelona in Budapest.
The Russian match official is relishing the prospect of handling the premier occasion in European women’s club football, the latest step in an impressive ten-year refereeing pathway which began after a fulfilling career as a player which also brought her international recognition.
“To be honest, I still can’t quite believe it,” the 38-year-old said of her appointment for the final in Hungary. “There’s a mixture of emotions – certainly happiness and excitement. I can’t wait to get to the match, and I’m sure that my heart rate will increase when I’m lining up with the teams!”
Pustovoitova, based in Moscow, was bitten by the football bug at an early age, and made her mark as a player before taking the whistle. She was a defender with TNK Ryazan, and was selected for the Russian squad that reached the quarter-finals of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States.
“I also played for Ryazan in the UEFA Women’s Cup, the predecessor of the UEFA Women’s Champions League,” she remembers. “We were the first Russian club to play in the competition when it started in 2001/02, and we reached the quarter-finals, when we were knocked out by the strong Swedish team Umeå IK, who reached the final that year and won the competition the year after.” Pustovoitova scored Ryazan's goal in the second leg.
Once her playing career ended, Pustovoitova’s passion for football pushed her towards refereeing. “I thought about what I could do next, because I can’t live without football – and I decided to try refereeing,” she says. “When I refereed, I felt confident, so I continued.”
Having been a player at higher levels can help a referee, and Pustovoitova agrees. “You are able to read the game,” she explains, “and you can anticipate a lot of the time what comes next.”
In addition to the high level of fitness needed to referee modern-day high-calibre European women’s football, Pustovoitova is pleased that she can study team tactics ahead of big matches such as Saturday’s final. “It’s been a great move to bring this in,” she says, “because it means that we’re fully ready for the match – we know everything about the teams and the players.”
Pustovoitova will be assisted by Ekaterina Kurochkina (Russia) and Petruţa Claudia Iugulescu (Romania). Katalin Kulcsár (Hungary) will act as the fourth official. A reserve assistant referee, Katalin Emese Török, also from Hungary, completes the line-up of the refereeing team.
She insists that the well-being of her team is a major priority, joining every top-level referee in underlining the importance of a close-knit refereeing unit. “Without the team, I’m nothing,” she says emphatically.
Pustovoitova, who relaxes away from the game by walking and exercising her three year-old Black Labrador dog, feels it is crucial for a referee not to copy others. “You must be yourself as a referee,” she reflects.
“I don’t really have role models, but I respect [German referee] Bibiana Steinhaus, she’s a women’s refereeing icon, as well as [former Czech referee and UEFA refereeing officer] Dagmar Damková, who is so experienced and took charge of so many important games in her career.”
Pustovoitova’s objective is to referee as long as she can. After her date in Budapest, the next big challenge will be this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France – following on from her previous major tournament, UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands. “I just want to keep doing my best and looking ahead,” she emphasises.
And what would be Anastasia Pustovoitova’s advice to a young girl who might be keen to take up refereeing?
“Just do it, if you love football – and believe in yourself...”