While much of the attention at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship is understandably taken up with the eight sides competing to lift the trophy, quietly and unobtrusively a "ninth team" are going about their work – the match officials.
The squad consists of two fourth officials from hosts Romania, eight assistants and six referees – one of whom, Poland's Pawel Gil, told UEFA.com about the "challenge and honour" being selected for such a tournament represents. "We've enjoyed every day; we're always trying to learn something new to improve," he said. "Every game is a lesson, we can learn from the observers and the referees committee so everyone can find something for themselves. We're the ninth team at this tournament and we really support each other."
The 35-year-old knows first hand how important such mutual encouragement can be having worked at the U17 tournament two years ago, when he was fourth official for the final. "That was a great event, I have only good memories of it," he added. "This is a different experience of course but what is the same is the teamwork; I was very happy to have the opportunity to be the fourth official at the U17 final, I enjoyed it."
In addition to his plentiful experience as a fourth official – including in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying – Gil has also worked as an additional assistant and a referee liaison officer, adding to his belief in the importance of working together. "You have to realise that in every game you're one part of the team; one game I'm fourth official, the next additional assistant, but you're always part of the team and that's what I always have in my mind. Whatever your role, there's something to learn from every game.
"That's what I enjoyed most about the U17s; we lived together and that was the most important thing for me," he continued. "We can support each other, say 'Good luck and see you after the game' and that's really important.
During a game and the meetings, it really helps us work together. In refereeing, you're not an individual but a unit; teamwork is one of the most important things and it's important to have good pre-match discussions about cooperation, so knowing each other well really helps with that."
Gil has enjoyed a fine season already, taking charge of the Polish Cup final between Legia Warszawa and KKS Lech Poznań in May, a match he describes as "very interesting". "They're two of the biggest clubs in Poland and it was a very exciting game, 1-1 after 90 minutes, then extra time and penalties. It was a very big match and an honour to be chosen to referee it."
Not just content to hone his skills close to home, Gil has taken charge of domestic fixtures as far afield as Japan and Saudi Arabia, experiences he looks back on fondly. "Every game is a challenge for me, I never think 'This is Poland, this is Europe' or whatever – I focus on each one in exactly the same way. Japan was a big event for me because I had the opportunity to referee the A team international between Japan and Argentina – a full stadium, a big game and a great opportunity.
"What is beautiful in football is that the rules of the game are the same all over the world; if you referee according to the rules, all players understand you. Football is a language and everyone speaks it."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.