After a definitely too long break following last season's club football comprising UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, the phenomenal European Championships at Poland/Ukraine, European's top competitions have already commenced their entire qualfying rounds and with the pending Play-Offs that will start today, a new season of sparkling football lies ahead. For UEFA's referees, this is another season where they can reach sensations, as Pedro Proença did last season, to generally show their skills and furthermore to take next steps within their development.
UEFA has again set new standards. Since Pierluigi Collina has headed the referee committee, there have been plenty of remarkable changes every now and then. Starting from officials getting the same team within the K.O. stage was a rarity once, examples like Carlos Velasco Carballo in 2010/11 and Felix Brych in 2011/12 clearly indicate that the slogan impossible is nothing also counts for their appointment strategy. In addition, the committee has extended the pool of referees who either are already joining the ELITE group or who are under obvious observation for that, being in Elite Development. 22 Elitereferees and 14 Elite development referees will have remarkable chances to get UEFA Champions League matches, in total 36 officials plus many potential talents from First Group who could get a match as well.
Another change is, as already mentioned in a previous post, that Elite Development referees may finally handle Champions League Play-Offs. Until this season, that was normally reserved for Elite officials.
Marijo Strahonja of Croatia will take control over Copenhagen's clash between FC København and OSC Lille. Both teams have a lot of fresh experience in this competition, so that a match with two teams on the approximately same level is to be expected. It is remarkable that Strahonja does not receive a less sonorous match than this one, this duel is certainly one of the top3 of this Play-Off round. UEFA is giving him full trust; the Croatian, who had managed to overtake Ivan Bebek, made his Champions League bow in 2011/12, having been in charge of Manchester United vs Otelul Galati. His three Europa League performances were slightly up-and-down, at least his last match (Salzburg - Metalist) revealed a crucial mistake. This match poses a real test, which becomes clear by UEFA committee member Jaap Uilenberg observing the Croatian team. Sinisa Premuzaj and Igor Krmar have unfolded to continue being his regular assistant referees, with Igor Pristovnik and Ante Vucemilovic-Simunovic jr at the goalline. FIFA assistant referee Goran Pataki will function as fourth official.
Two Portuguese teams will act today, headed by Pedro Proença (M'gladbach - Dynamo Kyiv) and Olegário Benquerença, who will perform his debut after a long injury in the match between Helsingborg and Celtic. There is not too much to say concerning Pedro Proença, who is certainly a good choice for the expectedly tough duel at Borussia Park. The German teams' statistics with Proença's involvement in UEFA Champions League are devastating. In four matches, Bayern München and Schalke 04 have undergone three losses and one draw (resulting in a loss in 2012 final). It is remarkable that Tiago Trigo and specially Venâncio Raposo Tomé will assist him. Raposo Tomé joined 2011 UEFA U21 EURO and will now make his Champions League debut. Duarte Gomes, João Capela and Rui Tavares complete the team, that will be observed by Finland's Kaj Natri.
For Benquerença, it is an important sign that UEFA has been patient with him. At 2010 World Cup, he counted to the better European referees. You can expect a lot - or nothing. Brilliant performances like in Manchester United - Chelsea London were followed by catastrophes like SSC Napoli - Bayern München. Matches with him never become boring: in thus far 29 Champions League matches (including Play-Off matches), he has until now booked 127 players (4,4 yellows per match) and has dismissed 11 players (0,38 red cards per match), which are the highest averages among all the Elite referee (only Webb and Atkinson have shown nearly thus many cards; Atkinson even more yellows, but less reds). Bertino Miranda, João Santos (who roughly speaking messed Manuel De Sousa's Champions League up), Artur Soares Dias, Carlos Taborda Xistra and, as the fourth official, Ricardo Santos will accompany him. Peter Mikkelsen, FIFA referee committee member, will observe his come-back.
After a strong last season, Jonas Eriksson could reach a lot next year. Accompanied by a new assistant referee - Daniel Wärnmark - he will oversee a match that already took place in 2010/11 group stage (in those days refereed by Alan Kelly and Laurent Duhamel). It could become an intense duel, so the Swedish team must be prepared and may not underestimate a match, which they will certainly not do at all. Observed by Wilfried Heitmann of Germany, Mathias Klasenius, above mentioned Daniel Wärnmark, Martin Strömbergsson, Tobias Mattsson and Stefan Wittberg will assist the 85-fold millionaire from Sigtuna.
Last but actually starting first, Spartak Moskva will meet Fenerbahce at Luzhniki Stadium at 18:00 CET. England's Martin Atkinson has received this match, which on paper indicates a tough evening. With 5,0 yellow cards per match, Atkinson heads the statistics of active Elite referees with more than 10 matches in UEFA Champions League. If I bet, I would predict many cards, but that is only a theory, one may be excited how he solved his task today. He is already familiar with both teams, which he refereed once each. Peter Kirkup will not accompany Howard Webb in the next season(s), probably due to his defective performance at EURO 2012. Stuart Burt will make his Champions League bow as assistant referee, after three Europa League matches in the last season. Michael Oliver and Michael Jones will stand at the bylines, while Olympic finalist Stephen Child will be the fourth official. The team will be observed by Switzerland's Andreas Schluchter.