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Who is István Kovács, the referee for Liverpool - Real Madrid Champions League round of 16 first leg?

Ahead of the first of two repeats of last year’s final, we check out who the man in the middle at Anfield will be.

Ahead of the first of two repeats of last year’s final, we check out who the man in the middle at Anfield will be.

European football’s governing body, UEFA, has appointed Romanian István Kovács as the referee for Tuesday’s Champions League round of 16 first leg between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Kovács, a FIFA international referee since 2010, is just 38, and he’ll be hoping to avoid controversy in what is a repeat of last year’s showpiece final.

Who is István Kovács?

Rising up the refereeing charts, Kovács has been appointed for arguably -- not much argument in my opinion -- the standout game of the first legs as Liverpool and Real Madrid go head-to-head at Anfield. The Romanian has a limited history with both teams never having officiated a match for The Reds in his career and only once having held the whistle when Los Blancos were involved.

However, that one instance with Madrid was just last season, and against another Premier League side. It was the first leg of last season’s semifinal against Manchester City at the Etihad, which Madrid lost 4-3, before mounting an utterly unbelievable (OK, it’s Madrid so these things tend to happen) comeback late on in the Spanish capital second leg.

Kovács, born in Carei, Romania on September 16, 1984, (making him 38 years old) holds dual Romanian and Hungarian nationality and works as a physical education teacher. He became an international referee in 2010, but did not receive assignments for the Champions League until the 2018-19 season, when he made his debut for Valencia-Young Boys (3-1). In the 2020-21 campaign, he officiated a Bayern-Lazio round of 16 match, and in addition to the Madrid match last season, he also officiated the first leg of the quarterfinal between Manchester City and Atlético Madrid.

He finished the season by officiating the Conference League final between Roma and Feyenoord (1-0).

What is Kovács’ refereeing history?

Kovács was one of the referees at Euro 2020 (officiating a North Macedonia-Netherlands match) and was part of the FIFA selection for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, but only served as fourth official in eight matches. FIFA “compensated” him for that by selecting him for the recent Club World Cup, where he officiated the semifinal between Flamengo and Al Hilal. He has refereed 281 matches in Romania’s top division and has also participated in exchange programs with other federations. In January, he officiated the Gulf Cup final between Iraq and Oman (3-2).

His record with Spanish teams -- not that anyone is trying to look for patterns of bias -- in the 13 matches (between clubs and national teams) is three wins, four draws, and six losses. English teams have a more favorable record, with six wins, one draw, and two losses in the nine matches refereed by Kovacs.

Who is the VAR for Liverpool vs Real Madrid?

As is customary these days, the importance of the Video Assistant Referee follows closely behind that of the man in the middle. For this game, Kovács will be assisted by Italian Massimiliano Irrati on VAR.

He will also be assisted on the sidelines by his compatriots Vasile Florin Marinescu and Ovidiu Artene, and the fourth official, also from Romania, will be Horatiu Fesnic.

UEFA provide a comprehensive list of all the Champions League referees for the round of 16 games.


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