Bjorn Kuipers has not only been appointed to referee the final between Germany and England but that assignment has also coincided with his promotion to UEFA's Elite group of match officials.
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Votes of confidence are not always welcome in footballing circles, but Bjorn Kuipers is far from complaining after receiving two of them in the build-up to Monday's UEFA European Under-21 Championship final. The 36-year-old Dutchman has not only been appointed to referee the Malmo final between Germany and England, but that assignment has coincided with his promotion from the Premier Development to the Elite group of European match officials.
His selection for the final was, he told uefa.com, "the biggest" moment of his career so far. "I was really happy when I found out," said Kuipers, who three summers ago was in the middle for the U17 Championship final. "I have been really happy here during these two and a half weeks with the other referees, and I was very pleased when I was announced for the final. You cannot expect it because there are six referees from all over Europe doing these matches. But I am very pleased."
Even had he not been nominated to take charge of a third game at this tournament – after the Spain-England and Finland-Spain group fixtures – he would be taking home to the eastern Dutch town of Oldenzaal happy memories. Life in the match officials' base of Falkenberg in western Sweden has been "wonderful". "We have a fantastic hotel next to the beach with all the facilities we need. We have a swimming pool and a sauna for relaxing. We have a wonderful staff who are taking care of us. Our two and a half weeks have been just fantastic," he said.
Especially valued has been the opportunity to work with a continental cast of fellow officials. International tournaments benefit referees as much as players according to Kuipers, who will be partnered by assistant referees Joël De Bruyn and György Ring and fourth official Pedro Proença at the Malmö New Stadium. "If you are with colleagues from other countries in Europe, you learn every day," he said. "Normally you travel from Holland as four guys – the two assistants, the fourth official and you're the ref – but now it's different. We are doing the final with a Belgian official, one from Hungary and the fourth official from Portugal. Of course, we know each other for two and a half weeks, but I learn every day how to get better and better, to co-operate with different cultures."
Kuipers, the son of a referee and a FIFA official since January 2006, has long since undertaken a busy list of appointments. Monday's final, though, promises to be the pinnacle and he will go into it full of confidence. Having attended February's UEFA Advanced Course for Elite and Premier Referees as a Premier Development referee, he has just been promoted to the Elite category.
"I have achieved my ambition because I am promoted to the Elite group of referees for UEFA," he revealed. "That means I'm going to do some Champions League matches next season and I'm looking forward to it. My ambition is to do this as well as I possibly can. I was in Malaga in the Premier Development group, and then this week I was promoted to the Elite group ahead of the final."
'Two strong teams'
If that was an unexpected bonus, the well-prepared Kuipers – a supermarket director by trade – anticipates few surprises from the Germany-England showpiece. "I refereed England-Spain in the group phase and I have been watching the games on television. I was fourth official in the semi-final between England and Sweden, and I saw the German team on television, so I know what I can expect. They are two strong teams who like to play football, and I am excited about doing this final. For me, it is great."