Nicola Rizzoli may not be viewed in the same esteem as the world-renowned Pierluigi Collina, who is a member of Uefa's Referees Committee and head of referees for the Ukrainian FA, but the Italian representative for Euro 2012 has quickly become one of the most respected match officials in the world game.
Rizzoli is an architect by day, but it is his reputation as a match official that has been built up in almost no time at all. This summer in Poland and Ukraine, he will be a head referee in his first international tournament.
The 40-year-old has been active in Serie A since 2002 and after becoming a Fifa-listed referee in 2007, he took charge of his first Champions League group stage clash in October 2008. Less than a year later, Rizzoli was appointed as part of Uefa's elite group of referees, and has taken charge of several high-profile club matches, including the inaugural Europa League final between Atletico Madrid and Fulham in Hamburg in 2010.
|NICOLA RIZZOLI | Italy
In terms of style, Rizzoli tends to be a bit card-happy and indeed hands out an average of almost five (4.89) cautions per match, nearly the highest among referees in Serie A, though his red card count levels out at 0.21 per match, in the bottom half of his compatriots.
As a consequence, the Bologna-born official is viewed as one who likes to keep the match in check, but is also known for his ability to talk calmly with the players on the pitch.
|RIZZOLI'S SUPPORTING TEAM
|Assistant Ref 1||Renato Faverani|
|Assistant Ref 2||Andrea Stefani|
|Assistant Ref 3||Luca Maggiani (standby)|
|Additional Assistant||Gianluca Rocchi|
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested Rizzoli succumbed to player pressure when he sent off Rafael in the 2010 Champions League quarter-finals against Bayern Munich and in early 2012, Lazio's Edy Reja stated that Rizzoli's officiating contributed to "double standards" regarding how big clubs and smaller clubs are treated in the Italian top flight.
His list of debatable calls include the aforementioned one at Old Trafford, as well as the second Milan league derby of 2011-12 when he awarded three penalties during a 4-2 win for Inter, two of them seemingly incorrect.
There was also a curious incident in 2008 when his presence in the area seemed to put off Francesco Totti as he went to shoot on goal, the Roma skipper's resulting shot finishing well over the crossbar and the club icon swore to the official's face several times, but was not shown a red card.
Nonetheless, Rizzoli's handling of the 2010 Europa League final, two matches at the 2011 Club World Cup in Japan, and a 2-2 draw between Napoli and Roma in the 2011-12 Serie A campaign have all been considered extremely competent displays. Additionally, in January 2012 he was chosen as the 'best referee' by the Italian Footballers' Association (AIC) at the Oscar del Calcio awards.
Rizzoli was selected ahead of several other Italian referees to attend Euro 2012 and Goal.com Italia's Renato Maisani supports his presence at the high-profile tournament.
"Rizzoli is still the best Italian referee in my opinion, but some believe [Paolo] Tagliavento is better than him.
"He doesn't have any fear. He has a strong personality and he's not influenced by previous matches, controversies or decisions," he explains, citing the Milan derby on May 6, 2012 and the three penalties in that contest.
"Uefa has made the right choice."
Rizzoli's tendency to book players and even stop the game may frustrate some teams and fans alike, but his ability to remain calm and composed under pressure makes him a top candidate for Euro 2012. And, having been chosen to referee in the World Cup 2014 qualifiers, it will certainly not be the last we see of him.