Just like France and Cameroon, the referees and their assistants prepared for the Final of the FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003 in meticulous fashion. The men in black combined physical and technical workouts with video sessions to ensure they were primed for action on the big day. FIFA refereeing supremos José Maria Garcia-Aranda and Hansulrich Schneider foster a professional approach to the event. Judge for yourselves as we spent a day with the game’s officials.

Friday 27 June, 9am – Departure
Two days before the Final of the FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003, ten referees, three physical trainers, three members of the Referees’ Committee and the two heads of department board a bus bound for Charlety Stadium in Paris. They are off for a training session that will combine both physical and technical preparation.

9.20am – Warm-up and technical briefing
After a warm-up led by trainers Werner Helsen and Nasser Guedioura and physio Daniel Lasfargue, the officials are called into the centre-circle by José Maria Garcia-Aranda for a discussion about yesterday’s games. The Spaniard begins by congratulating his cohorts before going on to mention certain areas where improvements could be made. Firstly among the assistants: “Fernando (Cresci, assistant to Jorge Larrionda), don’t forget you should move your flag from hand to hand when your arms are down, not above your head.” The former international referee then reminds the assistants where they should stand and how to position their arms when running so their field of vision is not impaired in any way. A detailed discussion ensues, evidence of the highly professional approach adopted by today’s referees, for whom the smallest detail is worthy of the greatest attention.

9.40am – Positioning in match situations
A large number of tricky refereeing decisions are made around the penalty area. Positioning is everything: “To make the right decision you have to be in the right place,” says Garcia-Aranda. “You need to watch the danger area closely and see where the players are coming from. In order to do that you need to move fast, and move more. You need to assess a situation in advance.” A good example is in the infamous black zone along the goal line in the penalty area: Schneider, Guedioura, Lasfargue and Garcia-Aranda simulate a confusing move in this zone. Each ref is called on to offer his opinion on the best place to stand. Valentin Ivanov, who will referee the Final, and Jorge Larrionda, who has just refereed France-Turkey, believe the best spot is in the penalty box arc. Everyone agrees.

10am – End of technical briefing
The black zone, where neither the ref nor his assistants have a perfect line of vision gives rise to some discussion. Garcia-Aranda finally brings it to a close with a joke: “The best thing to do is blow a free-kick for no reason before anybody gets into the box!” Laughter ensues. The mood is a nice blend of serious and relaxed. Before leaving for a meeting, the head of refereeing says: “We were the winners yesterday. You were in perfect condition.”

10.10am –Fitness first
The refs begin their physical workout with some running, changing pace at regular intervals. Werner Helsen takes Valentin Ivanov, Gennady Krasyuk and Yury Dupanau, who will officiate the Final, to one side. Their preparation is to be a little more intense with a view to the big game ahead. Meanwhile, the three committee members - José Carlos Ortiz Caroza, Carlos Alberto Maciel and Paolo Bergamo - begin a discussion about… refereeing. They speak in that universal tongue known to all men in black, a subtle blend of Spanish, Italian and English!

10.50am – And stretch!
Nasser Guedioura takes the refs through a final stretching to help them wind down, getting the guys to lie on the pitch and take up the most improbable positions. The jokes start flying and Guedioura responds by getting them into even more contorted poses. Helsen concludes the session with his trademark expression: “Y par atras, shake!”

11.00am – Back on the bus
Such was the intensity of the training session, it has finished early. On the way back to the hotel, Valentin Ivanov tells of his joy at having been selected to referee the final: “I’m proud. It’s my first international final. I was an assistant at the 1994 World Cup Final, but this is different. This competition has been very useful for us: the matches, training sessions and debriefings have all been managed very efficiently. Football is professional, so it is important for us to become professional. We are getting there."

11.30am – Lunch
Time for a meal back at the hotel before the debriefing at 3pm. The refs get together with two instructors and an assessor the day after every match to go over every decision.

3pm – Video and critical analysis
Before the session gets underway, Garcia-Aranda thanks the referees: “Despite the dramatic events in Lyons, I am happy with your work. It was not easy for you either. We are working hard, and the work is starting to bear fruit.” Instructors Peter Mikkelsen and Alfred Kleinaitis, assisted by video specialist Patrick Carolan, kick things off. Every incident from yesterday’s games (Cameroon – Colombia and France - Turkey) is analysed in detail. The referees are invited to explain why they took such and such action and the others are encouraged to give their opinion on whether he got it right or not. Mikkelsen, Kleinaitis and now and again Garcia then correct or approve the decision. Back passes to the keeper, dangerous play, positioning at dead-ball situations, shirt-pulling, penalties, offside but not-interfering-with-play situations and incidents in the box all come under the microscope.

4.30pm – Session ends
After 90 minutes of scrutiny, the session comes to an end with a typical touch of good humour. Fernando Cresci’s gesticulations when blowing up for a Thierry Henry foul during the France – Turkey game are replayed several times over in slow motion. Garcia-Aranda gets his message across about the importance of “body language” before bursting into laughter with the rest of his colleagues. The Spaniard ends the session with a rousing conclusion: “We are the only team to have got 99% of our decisions right during this tournament, and that makes me proud.” And the curtain comes down on a typical competition day for a bunch of “world class” referees.