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Martínez Munuera ready for final step on U19 journey

"I'm sure that when I get home, I'll be a better referee than when I arrived here." - We meet U19 EURO final referee Juan Martínez Munuera.

Martínez Munuera ready for final step on U19 journey
Martínez Munuera ready for final step on U19 journey ©Sportsfile

Juan Martínez Munuera has taken charge of matches involving Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in Spain's La Liga, but on Sunday he has his biggest assignment yet, when he referees the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final.

For the 36-year-old Spaniard from Benidorm the match between Italy and Portugal in Seinajoki will be his fifth at the tournament in Finland, two of which have been as referee.

"For me, it has been a great experience," Martínez Munuera told UEFA.com. "Under-19 matches can be some of the most challenging games in terms of mental focus, because while the players are well-disciplined and also have a high skill level, they are still young players, and for this reason you need even more concentration to expect the unexpected.

"We started nearly three weeks ago, eight referees and 12 assistants from different countries, and you can learn a lot from everybody. You learn and improve your refereeing a great deal. I'm totally sure that when I get home, I'll be a better referee than when I arrived here."

Martínez Munuera has been on the FIFA list of officials since 2015, and regards Sunday's match as the pinnacle of his refereeing journey so far. "For me, the final is the most important match in my career, so I´m very happy," he said.

"I'm a lucky man, because there are great referees and assistant referees here, they have all had very good performances during the tournament, and any one of them could have also been involved in the final. I will try to do it as well as possible. I can only thank UEFA and the observers for this great opportunity to learn and improve."

"For referees these tournaments are very important, because you have the real opportunity to enhance your refereeing. UEFA's observers teach you lots of things that are important in a referee's life, and for us, it's one step more along our refereeing path."

His journey as a referee is one that started when he was a child, and one that he owes in many ways to his father. "My father was a referee in the third division in Spain and when I was three, I started going to his matches with him, and I even helped him out with his reports, writing the players' names and so on.

The full refereeing team for the final - Bryngeir Valdimarsson, Bartosz Frankowski, Juan Martínez Munuera and Joakim Amri Nilsson.
The full refereeing team for the final - Bryngeir Valdimarsson, Bartosz Frankowski, Juan Martínez Munuera and Joakim Amri Nilsson.©Sportsfile

"I started refereeing myself when I was 11, in children's matches. It all went from there step-by-step until I arrived at La Liga when I was 31, 20 years after I first started. Next season will be my sixth in the top division."

Of course, Martínez Munuera is only one part of the four-man team of officials that will take charge of the final. Alongside him will be assistant referees Joakim Amri Nilsson (Sweden) and Bryngeir Valdimarsson (Iceland), as well as fourth official Bartosz Frankowski (Poland), and he explained the way they work together is vitally important.

"The teamwork is one of the most crucial things in refereeing," he said. "It's possible that years ago people have might have thought that the referee was the referee and the other officials weren't important in the match - but nowadays the teamwork is one of the most vital things. If you try to improve your teamwork, you get closer to success."

Martínez Munuera has left no stone unturned in his preparations for the game, a process that has involved studying lots of videos. "In preparation for every match, we watch a lot of clips, which I have done with Italy and Portugal for the final. Part of our preparation is trying to know the teams and players as much as possible."

On Wednesday he goes straight from Finland to Denmark to officiate in the UEFA Champions League - but before then it is the Under-19 showpiece in front of a packed house at the Seinäjoki Stadium. "A good game will be if I don't make any mistakes," he emphasises, "and everybody is happy."