By Mark Doyle
The Portuguese may still be in mourning after the Seleccao's heart-breaking Euro 2012 semi-final exit at the hands of Spain, but they can at least take some small consolation in the fact that one of their own has been entrusted with the responsibility of handling the tournament decider.
Pedro Proenca Oliveira Alves Garcia has been confirmed by Uefa as the referee for the eagerly-awaited clash between La Roja and Italy, and his appointment caps what has been a wonderful season for the 41-year-old Lisbon native.
Indeed, just over six weeks after taking charge of the biggest game in European club football, the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, Proenca will be the man in the middle for the continent's most prestigious international encounter.
Uefa's decision is not in the least bit surprising. Proenca got all of the big decisions in the Champions League final spot on and he has performed pretty flawlessly at the Euros so far. Proenca had never before officiated at a major international tournament but he has handled both himself and his three games to date - Spain v Republic of Ireland; Sweden v France; England v Italy - impeccably.
That he will be a familiar face to both of the finalists has also obviously worked in his favour, but Proenca has always seemed destined to handle games of this magnitude, having enjoyed a meteoric rise through the refereeing ranks.
|PEDRO PROENCA | Portugal
Born in Lisbon, the financial advisor, who enjoys skiing, reading and writing in his spare time, took up the most thankless task in football in 1998, at the age of 18, and became a Fifa-listed referee in 2003, just five years after he started to officiate matches in the top tier of Portuguese football. He was then eased into the international arena, taking charge of three matches at the 2004 Under-19 Championships, including the final between Turkey and Spain.
Proenca continued to move up the ladder, taking on his first Champions League game in 2007, and two years later he was promoted to Uefa's Elite category. In 2010-11, he oversaw five matches in the Champions League, including the semi-final contest between Manchester United and Schalke at Old Trafford.
His status as one of Europe's best referees was cemented by his confident and composed display in the Champions League final in Munich last month, correctly awarding an extra-time penalty for a clumsy foul on Bayern attacker Franck Ribery by Chelsea forward Didier Drogba.
|PROENCA'S SUPPORTING TEAM
|Assistant Ref 1||Bertmino Miranda
|Assistant Ref 2
|Assistant Ref 3
||Cuneyt Cakir (Standby/4th Official)|
||Manuel De Sousa
However, he came under intense criticism from the Benfica faithful in 2009 after he awarded Porto a penalty in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio da Luz when Lisandro Lopez was felled inside the box.
The Argentine striker was later suspended by the Portuguese Football Federation for diving and Proenca admitted to having made a mistake.
Public disapproval was taken to a whole new level in August 2011, though, when the referee was head-butted by a Benfica fan inside a shopping centre in Lisbon.
The official, who had left the gym and was on his way to have dinner, suffered two broken teeth and other injuries to his mouth. Still, he took to Twitter less than 24 hours later to guarantee that he would not be affected by the incident.
"There are some moments in life in which the acts of some fanatic people make you reflect and wonder whether it is worth it to fight for everything you consider just and correct," Proenca wrote.
"This thought invades us only for a few seconds, because the only path to follow is that of truth, justice and equality.
"What does not kill you makes you stronger. We may fall to the ground, but we will never be beaten."
More recently, Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira lambasted Proenca for some questionable calls in the club's 3-2 Portuguese Liga defeat against Porto, but fellow referee Duarte Gomes came out in defence of the 41-year-old.
"Pedro Proenca is by far the best referee right now, one of the best in Europe, and surely the one who dedicates the most to his cause, day after day," Gomes said.
"He knows better than anyone that hard moments are nothing more than the prelude to the truly unforgettable moments that are coming.
"These are what champions, like him, are all about."
Only fitting, then, that for a game between two sides full of champions, Proenca will be the man in the middle.