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Referee Meler hopes U17 final just the start

"I know it is the beginning of a long path," said Halil Umut Meler ahead of refereeing the U17 EURO final in England.

Halil Umet Meler
Halil Umet Meler ©Sportsfile

On Wednesday, Björn Kuipers took charge of his second UEFA Europa League final, having also refereed the 2014 UEFA Champions League decider and UEFA Super Cup - but it all started for the Dutch official at the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Championship.

That year Kuipers, in his first full season as an international referee, was appointed for the final in Luxembourg between Russia and the Czech Republic. On Sunday, 31-year-old Halil Umut Meler from Turkey will follow in Kuipers' footsteps as he referees the U17 final between Italy and the Netherlands in Rotherham.

"I am very proud to referee the final," Meler told UEFA.com. "It is the biggest target and the big dream for all the referees here. But I know it is the beginning of a long path. I will do my best and enjoy the final."

This will be Meler's fourth game at the finals in England, having handled three group fixtures, and he has enjoyed the experience both at the matches and at the referees' base near Derby. "It has been perfect for me and my colleagues, amazing," he said. "This is the international arena – amazing organisation. I am so happy to be here.

"I have seen new places, seen new players, new tactics. I have learned many things during the tournament because I met with new colleagues from other countries. There has been good communication and a good atmosphere between us."

The full refereeing team
The full refereeing team©Sportsfile

A regular referee in the Turkish Süper Lig, Meler explained his journey to the international list. "When I was 18, I started to referee and, nine years later, I was in the top division in Turkey," he said. "When I was 29, I became an international referee, this is my second year.

"I finished my sports education and started refereeing when I was young. I played amateur football for six years before university in my home town."

Meler credits UEFA's Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) in Nyon, which began in 2010, for helping him to Sunday's final. "This has been a very good season for me," he said. "I have been given top-division games in Turkey after I went to CORE.

"I learned very important things to become an excellent referee from very experienced people like David Elleray, Jorn West Larsen and Roberto Rosetti. After CORE, in 2017, I became a FIFA referee. Now, in my second year, I was invited to the U17 EURO final tournament. It will be the most important international match in my career."

That match on Sunday excites him: "Every final has a story, every game has a story. Because in a final, every team has just one goal – the trophy."

This season, Meler has also gained experience in a very different arena - as an additional assistant referee in the UEFA Europa League. "It's amazing to referee at the top level, I get a great feeling of pride," he said.

The full team ...
Referee: Halil Meler (TUR)
Assistant referees: Robert Steinacher (AUT), Péter Kóbor (HUN)
Fourth official: Horatiu Fesnic (ROU)