As the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship hots up – meteorologically as well as figuratively – ahead of Wednesday's semi-finals, there remains an oasis of cool in a suburban hotel in Minsk, Belarus. uefa.com sat down here with Romanian referee Teodora Albon, referee observer Ingrid Jonsson and referee observer and UEFA Referees Committee member, Josef Marko, to get the match officials' perspective on the tournament so far.
'Like a family'
The ninth team at these finals comprises six referees, eight assistants and two fourth officials from the Belarussian hosts. And, as Teodora Albon told uefa.com, the group has gelled from the start: "We arrived the Saturday before the championship kicked off and the local people have tried to help us feel at home. I spent almost a week here with the other referees and it feels like a family."
Albon, 31, is an experienced referee having worked in the Romanian men's top division, yet she believes this kind of tournament requires special attention. "It's a great advantage for me because it's not easy to be a ref in Romania – for example, we have to pass the men's fitness test," she said. "Here I have more time to read the game, to understand what they want to do with the ball. Our focus here is 'expect the unexpected' because at this level it can happen that the girls lose the ball too quickly and we do not have time to be in the best position."
Chance to learn
If participation in the FIFA Women's World Cup or UEFA Women's Champions League is the long-term target, Albon is confident her assignment in Minsk will make her a better official. "This is a first step for us. We have an opportunity to learn from one another and from our observers about both refereeing and about life, because we are still young. Each game is another experience, whether it's Under-19 or Women's Champions League. I just collect advice and keep working. Sometimes you want to be upstairs too quickly but it's important first to get the experience from this level."
In addition to the support they receive from colleagues, the match officials are closely monitored by two observers from the Belarus Football Federation, and by 1995 Women's World Cup final referee Ingrid Jonsson and Josef Marko of the UEFA Referees Committee. "There's a good feeling in this group," Jonsson told uefa.com. "They were nearly all preparing in Frankfurt at the start of June and you could see from the first day that they had already met each other. I think this is one of the reasons they have such a good spirit."
The observer's role is of central importance, as Jonsson explained: "First, we do the observations during the game, but I think the main point is when we have the debriefing. We analyse the DVD of the game and put up good things and things that could be improved, not only to the single referee but for the whole group, and try to give them advice for the future, for the next game – just one or two key points we recommend working on." Marko's advice is simple: "They are a team and the team is taking the decisions. The priority is the correctness of the decisions. Secondly, their main task is to protect the health of the players and create the best conditions to play the game and to keep the respect on the pitch – it's the main slogan of UEFA."
Marko thinks the referees are not only operating in an ideal working environment but can go on to benefit their peers back home. "Those who are here have been training every day and we have lots of discussions for everybody to learn, but we expect them to bring their experience home and share it with the other referees in their national associations." Jonsson agrees it is yet another step in the right direction for female match officials. "You can see such a great development in every aspect since 2001 when I was still an assistant referee. It's much more professional and this is only the beginning."
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