UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE
Who is Felix Zwayer, the referee for Croatia vs Spain? | 2023 UEFA Nations League final
The third edition of the UEFA Nations League will be settled in Rotterdam on Sunday with the German the man in the middle.
The third UEFA Nations League final in Rotterdam will offer up a first-time winner, with either Croatia or Spain set to join the Netherlands and France as victors of European soccer’s newest international tournament.
For the Croats, it’s a chance to finally get their hands on some silverware after going close at the last two World Cup, as well as an opportunity for Luka Modric to taste international success before he retires. We don’t know when that day will come just yet but, at 37 years old, it sadly can’t be too far away.
The Spaniards, meanwhile, will be looking to get back in the winners’ circle after more than a decade out of it. The Nations League perhaps isn’t the title they and Europe’s other ‘elite’ teams are really after, but after some underwhelming performances in recent World Cups and European Championships, beggars can’t be choosers.
Croatia vs Spain: too close to call?
If there ever was any match that was likely to end in a draw, it’s this one. Eight of Croatia’s last nine knockout matches in all competitions have gone to extra time (four have gone to penalty shootouts, all won by the Croats), as have each of Spain’s last five World Cup and European Championship fixtures beyond the group stage (La Roja have lost three of them from the spot).
Recent history suggests, then, that we could be in for a closely-contested clash in Rotterdam, which could lead to the match officials having an important role to play, with German Felix Zwayer in the spotlight.
Who is Felix Zwayer?
A real estate broker living in Berlin, this 41-year-old referee has plenty of experience behind him across the Bundesliga, European club competitions and international football. But it’s a tale of highs and lows for Zwayer, who began his refereeing journey back in 2004, but whose first big break came in 2007, when he was promoted to officiate in the 2. Bundesliga, Germany’s second tier, and was later given the nod to be an assistant referee in the top flight. He then moved up the ranks even further, becoming a full-time Bundesliga referee in the 2009-10 season.
But Zwayer’s career took a hit in 2005, when he found himself involved in a match-fixing scandal. Alongside several other high-ranking referees, Zwayer reported that 2. Bundesliga referee Robert Hoyzer was taking bribes to fix matches. However, Zwayer himself had also accepted a bribe to avoid critical scenes for Wuppertaler SV. He was banned from refereeing for six months as a result. In spite of the scandal, Zwayer continued to work his way up the ranks, and in 2018, he was selected by FIFA to be one of the video assistant referees for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
However, controversy struck again in December 2021, when Zwayer was heavily criticised for not awarding Borussia Dortmund a penalty and for sending off coach Marco Rose during a game against Bayern Munich. After the match, former Dortmund player Jude Bellingham, now of Real Madrid, made reference to Zwayer’s past, leading to further scrutiny of the referee’s career.
Zwayer took a break from refereeing after the incident, but returned in February 2022 for a 2. Bundesliga game between Hannover 96 and SV Darmstadt and finds himself ranked as a UEFA elite category referee, hence him getting involved in a game like we have today in Rotterdam.
He officiated four Champions League matches last season (26 in total) including Real Madrid’s 1-0 second leg victory over Liverpool in the round of 16. He has also taken charge of six UEFA Nations League games in his career, all of which have been in the group stage.
Who is the VAR for Croatia vs Spain?
Fellow German Marco Fritz will be the man with the screens, slo-mos and straight lines. His Assistant Video Assistant Referees are compatriot Sven Jablonski and Englishman Stuart Atwell.
Running the sidelines will be Stefan Lupp and Marco Achmüller, also from Germany, while Slovakian Ivan Kruzliak will be the fourth official.