x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

What's it like ... to officiate in a World Cup

The Emirati is seen as a flag-bearer for Asian officials in football.

Firstly, I am happy and proud to have had the honour of officiating in three World Cups. I cannot hide this fact. I am only one of two Asian referees to do that. I am the only Asian referee to stand in the semi-final of a World Cup, only one to officiate the opening match and the first to referee a third-place play-off. I am also the only referee to officiate in the continental championships of all six Fifa confederations. So this is a proud record for me, the UAE and the AFC. I feel privileged that I had an opportunity to bring honour to my country.

I refereed seven matches in World Cups, the first being at the 1994 World Cup in the USA. And, if I may say so, I was part of history in my first game, where Bulgaria defeated Greece. Bulgaria had never won a World Cup match before. I officiated the third-placed play-off match too when Sweden defeated Bulgaria. It was the first time an Asian referee had been given a play-off game. I had already officiated in the 1991 Youth World Cup and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics before going to the USA, but refereeing a World Cup match is a completely different thing. It is a big, big responsibility. The eyes of thousands in the stadium and billions on television are on you. So you can only imagine how it must feel.

The other thing is, you are not there as an individual, but representing your league and country. So every decision you make reflects on the country. The 1998 World Cup was an unforgettable experience. I did three games. I had the honour of refereeing the round of 16 match between France and Paraguay, when the only golden goal in the history of World Cups was scored [by Laurent Blanc for France]. At the 2002, I officiated two difficult matches. The opening match is not easy and I was the first Asian referee to be given that responsibility. It was a memorable game with Senegal stunning defending champions France.

I was hoping to officiate the final too, though no referee in World Cup history had done the opening match and the final of the same tournament. I was praying for Italy to reach the final. Had they managed that, then Pierluigi Collina would not have been able to officiate, and I would have been the first choice. Unfortunately Italy lost in round two. So that has been the only regret - not being able to officiate a final. Emirati Ali Bujsaim is seen as the flag-bearer for Asian referees.