Tahiti’s Kader Zitouni will be able to cross another FIFA competition off his list this year after being selected as the only Oceania match official for the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 in June.
“Being selected was a big surprise, just like it was in 2013 when I was selected for my first FIFA competition, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in UAE,” Zitouni said.
“Any FIFA tournament is an opportunity to show your performance, your capacity, your improvement, and your personality, so it’s a great opportunity to increase your chances to participate to other FIFA tournament and finally to the big World Cup.
“I’m really happy and excited to participate in this big competition with all of the confederations’ best teams.”
Less surprised by the hardworking Tahitian’s recruitment is Oceania Referee Development Officer Kevin Stoltenkamp who is looking forward to seeing Zitouni develop as a match official during his experience at the competition, then bring his new knowledge home to share with his colleagues throughout the region.
“OFC are as excited as Kader with his appointment to the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. The experience he will gain in the Confederations Cup will serve both Kader and OFC well in the long-term, as Kader is heavily involved with referee development in Tahiti,” he said.
“This is another opportunity for him to work with the best officials in the world, in the preparation for the tournament and the tournament itself. These experiences will further enhance his own referee development, to achieve his goal to officiate at a FIFA World Cup final one day.”
Zitouni is excited to join New Zealand as ambassadors for the region in the competition this June, but is well aware that he still has a long journey before he takes the field in Russia.
“For all FIFA tournaments, all referees arrive one week before the first game. During this week, you do the fitness test and if you fail, you’re sent back home immediately,” he said.
“You then participate in intensive pre-tournament theoretical and practical training sessions organised by the FIFA Refereeing Department.
“We are lucky, because during the practical sessions we work with 22 players that play high level football and try to create complicated situations.
“It’s an interesting opportunity to prepare for the tournament and also to show your capacity.”
Zitouni is looking forward to taking the same field as football giants like Germany and Brazil, but he’s also hoping to see New Zealand and the other ‘under-dog’ nations causing some historic upsets.
“Of course at first we think about the two teams from UEFA, Germany and Portugal, then Chile, Mexico and Cameroon, but we can’t forget Russia, Australia or New Zealand. In football, anything is possible during the game,” he said.
“I remember New Zealand at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, drawing 1-1 against Italy and 0-0 against Paraguay. No one expected New Zealand to achieve anything at this level.”
Although Zitouni encourages all aspiring referees to make a crack at the top level, he also acknowledge that the path to elite officiating requires a lot of commitment and self-determination.
“You have to be serious, honest, patient and make sacrifices,” he said.
“The key to success is persevering with regular training. You can’t wait until you’re appointed for an OFC or FIFA tournament to start to train. By then it’s too late!
“It’s also very important to follow the advice of the referee assessor and take any knowledge you can on board.”
With the Video Assistant Referee operating throughout the competition, Zitouni’s commitment to training and learning will be under the microscope, but the pressure has only motivated him to push himself further.
“The Video Assistant Referee will be used to ensure a perfect game without mistake, and they have the power to change the score. My challenge is to master the new guidelines and referee to the best of my ability.”
Proud and confident ahead of his big trial, Zitouni already has his goals set for June and beyond – with no plan on slowing down.
“In the first week before the competition I want to show my improvements during the training sessions. Then, during the tournament, where I will be the fourth official, I want to help my colleagues lead a perfect game,” he said.
“My next step will be to continue participating in any international competition or game, OFC or FIFA, and develop my skills step by step. Every game or competition is an opportunity to enjoy my passion.
“The big dream is to participate in the World Cup, maybe even next year in Russia. Anything is possible when you work hard and make sacrifices.”
The FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 will kick off on 17 June, wrapping up on 2 July.