New Zealand match officials Chris Sinclair and Antony Riley had the honour of taking charge of the opening match at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021 on Monday morning NZT, overseeing the clash between host nation Lithuania and Venezuela.  

Sinclair was appointed as referee and Riley second referee for the match at Kaunas Arena, which was won 2-1 by Venezuela.  

After becoming the first New Zealander to officiate at a FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2016, Sinclair is taking part in his second World Cup campaign. 

The tournament marks Riley’s World Cup debut and comes after he underwent major surgery earlier this year due to a blood clot which caused his small intestine to begin to die. 

He found out he had been selected to officiate at the World Cup while still in intensive care and subsequently made a remarkable recovery to be fit in time for the tournament. 

With international matches unable to be played in the Oceania region due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sinclair and Riley made the decision to relocate to Thailand on July 20 to officiate at the Continental Futsal Championship held in late August. 

It gave the pair some valuable time to prepare physically and mentally for officiating at the highest level, but when they were unable to secure Managed Isolation and Quarantine spots in New Zealand for the trip home they elected instead to remain in Thailand and travel directly to Lithuania for the World Cup.  

Chris Sinclair picture left before kick-off. Photo Credit: FIFA via Getty Images

OFC Head of Refereeing Kevin Stoltenkamp said the sacrifices they have made in order to realise their World Cup dreams are admirable.  

“Together with their families, they have made a conscious decision to ensure they had the best possible preparation for the FIFA Futsal World Cup,” Stoltenkamp said.  

“This level of commitment is reflective of their professionalism and dedication to represent themselves, their families, New Zealand and OFC with quality performances.”  

Oceania’s attention now turns to the Solomon Islands, who will open their World Cup campaign against Morocco on Tuesday morning NZT (click here for all Oceania kick-off times).