AIPS / DUBAI: The first referee ever to halt an Italian Serie A match because of racist chanting has been handed one of tomorrow’s two semi-finals in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Gianluca Rocchi marked a seminal moment in Italian football last May when he stopped a match between Milan and Roma in the Stadio Meazza at San Siro because of visiting fans’ abuse of home striker Mario Balotelli. After a short halt for a public address warning Rocchi restarted play and there was no further problem.
In the UAE the 40-year-old from Florence will referee the night clash between Argentina and Mexico in Abu Dhabi.
Rocchi took only four years to rise from Serie C to Serie A, making his debut at the highest domestic level in 2004 with a game between Lecce and Reggina. A year later he was awarded a prize as best young referee of the year.
He made his international debut on May 26, 2008, in a friendly between the Dutch and Greek under-19 teams. Almost immediately he was appointed in the UEFA Cup in 2008-09, was fourth official at the 2010 Europa League Final and moved on up to the Champions League in 2010-11.
Rocchi refereed three matches in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying competition and two in the last Olympics at London 2012 including Mexico’s 3-1 defeat of Japan in the semi-finals.
In the World U-17s in the UAE he refereed the group matches between the hosts UAE and Honduras then Nigeria v Iraq. He showed a total of seven yellow cards and one red, to UAE’s Alhammadi Abdulla.
Before flying to the UAE he refereed the Italian Supercup between Juventus and Lazio as well as top Serie A clashes including Roma v Lazio and Juventus v Milan.
The first of Tuesday’s semi-finals, between Nigeria and Sweden in Dubai, has been entrusted to Brazil’s Heber Roberto Lopes.
He has refereed both teams before in this tournament. In the second round the 41-year-old officiated at Nigeria’s 4-1 win over Iran. Previously, in the group stage he refereed Japan v Russia and then Canada and Iran.
A banker, Heber Lopes became a professional referee in 1995 and was promoted to the FIFA list in 2002. Vastly experienced he has officiated in four Brazilian Cup finals and various Copa Libertadores and international matches.
He was an official at the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Finland and was named as Brazil’s Referee of the Year in 2009.
Referee for the second semi-final, between Argentina and Mexico in Abu Dhabi, will be Italy’s Gianluca Rocchi.