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Europa League final referee István Kovács ready for action

The Romanian official is relishing the opportunity to referee his second UEFA club final in three years.

István Kovács will officiate the 2024 Europa League final
István Kovács will officiate the 2024 Europa League final Getty Images

As we anticipate a scintillating UEFA Europa League final between Atalanta and Leverkusen, there is one man who will be closer than the rest of us to the action – referee István Kovács.

Kovács' appointment comes at the end of another impressive campaign for the Romanian official and represents the third consecutive season he has been on duty at a UEFA club final. He took charge of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League showpiece in Tirana in 2022 and was fourth official at the UEFA Champions League decider in Istanbul last June. Such experiences stand him in good stead for what awaits on Wednesday night in Dublin.

"This will be my second UEFA final as a referee, and it really is a dream come true," says the 39-year-old. "To have refereed the Europa Conference League final in 2022 is of course helpful for this occasion.

"I still remember the feelings and the experience from that night, but I still need to work and prepare well for the match to make sure everything goes well on the night. It's a big responsibility to be appointed for this match and I want to prove I am ready for this challenge."

Kovács took charge of the 2022 Europa Conference League final
Kovács took charge of the 2022 Europa Conference League finalUEFA via Getty Images

Kovács is used to the big stage and is also preparing to officiate at his second UEFA European Championship this summer, but there is still a sense of pride at handling such high-profile matches.

"I like the adrenaline when I am on the field; it is one of the best things about being a referee," he explains. "If I take good decisions during the game, I am proving to myself that I can handle these big matches."

Wednesday night's showpiece in front of 50,000 fans will be a far cry from Kovács' first-ever game as a referee when he was just 14 years old, and it is the perfect time to reflect on 25 years in the role.

"I love football. For me, being a referee is the most beautiful job in the world and I recommend that youngsters come and embrace this opportunity," he says. "During my career, I have made a lot of connections, built good relationships with my colleagues and have enjoyed visiting many different countries through my work."

It is a journey, however, that Kovács acknowledges he could not have made alone. "The Europa League final will be a proud moment for me but also for the team alongside me and more broadly, Romanian football," he says. "I owe a lot of people at home a big 'thank you' for the success I have had in my career.

"Many people have helped me with good advice or support when I have had difficult times. The chairman of the referees committee in Romania, Kyros Vassaras, has helped to improve a lot of things in the domestic game for us, and there is one person who has been next to me since I started – István Szilágyi – and I thank him in particular because he has always supported me."

Kovacs will clearly have plenty of well-wishers on Wednesday night, but nothing will distract him until the job is done.

"I don't change anything in the way I prepare for matches," he explains. "I do the same thing whether it is a European final or a Romanian league match, and this helps to ensure I am fully focused. Once the game is finished, we can reflect and enjoy the occasion."

2024 UEFA Europa League final refereeing team

Referee: István Kovács (ROU)
Assistants: Vasile Florin Marinescu (ROU) & Mihai Ovidiu Artene (ROU)
Fourth official: Ivan Kružliak (SVK)
Reserve assistant: Branislav Hancko (SVK)
VAR: Pol van Boekel (NED)
Assistant VAR: Catalin Popa (ROU)
VAR support: Rob Dieperink (NED)

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