Despite France's stature in the international game, it could be seen as a surprise that there are few international referees hailing from the country. Indeed, Stephane Lannoy is the only top-level official currently among the Uefa Elite group of referees, highlighting a distinct lack of quality emerging from l'Hexagone.
The quality of refereeing in France took a major hit after Uefa's decision not to include a referee in their list for Euro 2008 - a first in a major tournament for 30 years. Lannoy, nevertheless, still made the trip to Austria and Switzerland as one of the fourth officials, though an outcry ensued in France after the media portrayed the level of officiating in the country as "lazy and arrogant".
The Boulogne-sur-Mer native has been a Fifa-listed referee since 2006, a full four years after his debut in Ligue 1. The 42-year-old turned towards a career in officiating after a disappointing football career, and used to referee local games even at the age of 20. Now residing in the northern sleepy town of Sailly-sur-la-Lys with the day job of a video-games distributor, Lannoy's rise to the forefront of international refereeing hasn't exactly been a smooth one.
Lannoy's style as a disciplinarian has attracted some criticism within the French system, as well as from further afield. While other referees prefer to let the game flow, the French official is liable to hand out yellow cards even at the first opportunity. Indeed, Lannoy has dished out an average of four yellow cards per game in nearly 300 career appearances in charge.
|STEPHANE LANNOY | France
His preference to impose his authority on a match has been backed by Uefa and Fifa, with Lannoy promoted to the Elite category in 2009-10, as well as being appointed to the team of officials at the Under-21 European Championship, Under-17 World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Fifa included him as one of the referees for World Cup 2010, which was seen as a show of faith in the French refereeing department after the snub of two years previously. After an incident-free encounter in Netherlands' 2-0 victory over Denmark, the Frenchman was to oversee arguably one of the most controversial episodes in the tournament.
|LANNOY'S SUPPORTING TEAM
|Assistant Ref 1||Eric Dansault|
|Assistant Ref 2||Frederic Cano
|Assistant Ref 3||Michael Annonier (Standby)|
|Additional Assistant||Fredy Fautrel|
|Additional Assistant||Ruddy Buquet|
Despite his vast experience up until that point, Lannoy made a string of errors in Johannesburg during Brazil's 3-0 victory over Ivory Coast. With the Selecao leading 1-0, Luis Fabiano proceeded to use his hand - twice - to control the ball before firing in an exquisite low volley to double his country's lead.
Ignoring Ivorian insistence that the goal should not be allowed, Lannoy jogged back with Fabiano, and comically asked him whether he handled the ball or not, before sharing a few smiles with the former Sevilla forward. Kolo Toure later remarked about the incident, being quoted in the Guardian as saying: "The referee asked the player if he had touched the ball. How can a referee ask a player if he committed a foul?" Sven-Goran Eriksson also lambasted the official for giving away a "free goal".
In the same game, the Frenchman handed Brazilian superstar Kaka his first and only career red card after another controversial incident involving Kader Keita in which the Ivorian feigned an elbow to the face. The Daily Mirror wrote that "whilst Fifa should clamp down on cheats, they should also ensure that Lannoy never officiated at that level again," a testament to the scathing criticism the official received from some quarters.
In another controversial incident in a game between Lyon and Rennes in 2007, the then les Gones forward Milan Baros was accused of racially abusing Stephane Mbia after the two players clashed. Lannoy saw the incident, reprimanding both, but failed to include it in his report, and sparked another stream of criticism within the media.
Despite some previous problems, the referee has emerged as a quality official, with a stellar 2011-12 season highlighting his ability at the highest level of the game. He was handed the first final of his career in the Coupe de la Ligue showpiece between Lyon and Marseille, and was the fourth official for the Europa League final between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest.
Lannoy himself is unfazed by the pressure.
"I am pleased for the team to participate in a major competition and to associate with French refereeing in this event. The pressure does not paralyse me, on the contrary, it stimulates me, I want to prove that French refereeing is not as bad as you thought."
He will be hoping to banish the demons of his last international tournament with a more low-key performance in Poland and Ukraine.