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Referee Kulbakov ready for final challenge

Aleksei Kulbakov has been selected to referee the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final, the culmination of a rewarding two-week period for the Belarusian official.

The U19 final match officials led by referee Aleksei Kulbakov
The U19 final match officials led by referee Aleksei Kulbakov ©Sportsfile

Aleksei Kulbakov is anticipating a "very important moment" in his career having been chosen to referee the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final between France and Serbia.

Fully focused on Thursday's showpiece in Marijampole, the 33-year-old Belarusian expressed his gratitude at being selected to officiate in the encounter, with his pride shared among the refereeing team – assistants Dermot Broughton of the Republic of Ireland and Leif Eric Opland from Norway and German fourth official Felix Zwayer.

"To be part of the refereeing team along with Dermot, Eric and Felix is both a big honour and a pleasure," Kulbakov told UEFA.com. "It's a very important moment in our refereeing lives. Every referee here at the tournament formed a great group. We were from countries all over Europe but spoke only one language, the language of football."

From their base in Kaunas, all of the match officials in Lithuania have received daily briefing sessions and fitness workouts which have formed part of an important learning process during the finals. "These past two weeks we have worked very professionally and in an in-depth manner while trying to improve ourselves as people and as referees," Kulbakov said.

"We had really excellent physical and practical training with our coach while receiving highly informative analysis from our observers. We discussed a lot of situations with regard to reading the game. I can now take this information and these ideas back home with me and share them with my Belarusian refereeing colleagues."

Agreeing that the standard of football has been particularly high, Kulbakov said that the players and the Lithuanian public had combined to create a unique sporting event played in a warm atmosphere.

"Obviously the players here are all around 19 years old yet you can already see that many of them will be stars of the UEFA Champions League in the future," the referee explained. "We have also seen a lot of spectators here, even when Lithuania have not been playing, which goes to show the interest there has been in the tournament. This is a beautiful country where the people have been always willing to help us."

Having studied closely a recording of the finalists' 1-1 Group B draw last week, Kulbakov said his team of officials are expecting a different type of match. "This is a final and, as such, is a special game," he said. "We watched the sides' previous game but realise the next one will not be the same. We just want to concentrate and be prepared for any eventuality that may arise."