Slovenian Damir Skomina's remarkable rise to prominence in refereeing tells a story of aspiration, commitment and, above all, hard work.
His journey in international officiating has taken him from obscure games in Macedonia and Belarus, through the 2008 Olympic Games and this season's Champions League quarter-final second leg between Chelsea and Benfica, and will see his arrival at his first major international tournament - Euro 2012.
At just 35 years of age, this is actually Skomina's second European Championship, having been appointed as a fourth official for the 2008 edition, but it is his first as head referee. To date, he is the only Slovenian ever to be entrusted with officiating games at the highest international level.
A real estate agent, tourism organiser and father of two sons, Skomina certainly understands the importance of discipline and acting without hesitancy, as evidenced by his behaviour on the pitch. The Slovenian is known for his confident and no-nonsense approach, which has earned him plenty of plaudits.
A Fifa referee since 2003, and a Uefa Elite referee since 2009, Skomina has long been touted as one of the most promising European officials and is expected to add another impeccable performance to his spotless record on the big stage.
|DAMIR SKOMINA | Slovenia
In his short career, Skomina has officiated three cup finals in his native Slovenia, the final of the 2007 Under-21 European Championships, two Champions League quarter-finals (Schalke v Inter in 2011 and Chelsea v Benfica in 2012) and this year's Europa League semi-final second leg between Valencia and Atletico Madrid.
The Koper native, who started his refereeing career at just 16, is known for his cool head and strict behaviour. Skomina rarely misses incidents on the pitch and always acts by the book, handing out cards whenever they are merited. His ability to handle pressure from players and to stamp his authority is one of the reasons why he is so highly-rated.
|SKOMINA'S SUPPORTING TEAM
|Assistant Ref 1||Primoz Arhar
|Assistant Ref 2||Marko Stancin
|Assistant Ref 3||Matej Zunic (Standby)|
|Additional Assistant||Matej Jug
|Additional Assistant||Slavko Vincic
Coming from a small European country, Skomina's abilities have often been belittled because of his background. Despite having little to back up his verbal attacks, Benfica president Luis Felipe Vieira was vocal in his criticism of the referee after his team were defeated by Chelsea in this season's Champions League.
The Eagles conceded a clear penalty after a foul by Javi Garcia and had Maxi Pereira rightly sent off for a second bookable offence before half-time, yet Benfica decided to point the finger at Skomina instead.
"We can't understand how a Slovenian referee was in charge of this match and we will explain our position to the Portuguese Football Federation," said Vieira after the match.
Arsene Wenger also criticised Skomina after Arsenal were eliminated by AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16 despite a 3-0 win in London. The Frenchman said after the match that he "was not happy with the referee because he gave many free-kicks in the middle of the park."
Uefa acted quickly to punish Wenger for his outburst and handed the coach his third ban from European competitions in a year, as well as a hefty fee.
There was also some criticism levelled at Skomina after the Europa League semi-final second leg between Valencia and Atletico Madrid. The referee awarded a penalty for Valencia in 79th minute for a handball by Tiago, only to quickly reverse his decision.
Replays confirmed the validity of his decision as it turned out that Los Che defender Ricardo Costa committed the offence rather than the Atletico Madrid midfielder. Tiago's relief was short-lived, however, as he was then sent off in the mass confrontation following the spot-kick confusion for slapping Roberto Soldado.
Perhaps Skomina's biggest gaffe to date is his failure to award a clear penalty for a handball in Slovenia's derby between Maribor and Olimpija earlier in 2012. The incident proved to be the only black spot in what has been a good year for the referee, who will be keen to impress at Euro 2012.