MOSCOW (Reuters) – Argentine Nestor Pitana’s roundabout route to becoming a World Cup final referee has taken in work as a film extra and as a security guard at a disco as well as a spell playing basketball at regional level.
The 43-year-old from the small sub-tropical province of Misiones will become the second referee after compatriot Horacio Elizondo to officiate at both the opening match and final after being picked for Sunday’s match between France and Croatia.
At 1.92 meters tall (6ft 3in), Pitana is a physically imposing figure who, having learned his trade in the cut-and-thrust world of Argentine domestic football, does not take to being bullied by angry players.
“Pitana is as strong as a rock,” Pierluigi Collina, the head of FIFA’s refereeing committee, told Argentine media at the start of the tournament.
“He won’t allow himself to be taken in by the players’ protests and demands.”
According to the statistics on website Transfermarkt, Pitana has refereed 347 professional games, shown 1,658 yellow cards and 108 red cards and awarded 81 penalties since his debut in 2007.
Like any referee, he has not avoided being caught up in controversy.
In a league match in April, he failed to see the Estudiantes goalkeeper had been unable to keep the ball in play while trying to prevent a corner and seconds later awarded Chacarita a penalty.
“If I had been playing, the match probably would not have finished,” said furious Estudiantes president Juan Veron after his side’s 2-0 defeat.
Pitana is also remembered for his part in a Superclasico derby in 2014 when River Plate scored a late winner from a corner that Boca Juniors claimed should not have been given.
Having played basketball and football at regional level, Pitana took up refereeing and also studied physical education.
He also took on odd jobs which included a minor acting role as a prison guard in the 1997 Argentine film “La Furia” as well as working as a lifeguard and a security guard at a disco.
He made his refereeing debut in the top flight of Argentine football in 2007, became an international referee three years later and officiated at four matches at the last World Cup in Brazil.
“For any kid who loves football, the dream is to get to the World Cup final,” he told FIFA’s website.
“This team have worked so hard to get where we are, we’ve managed one of the greatest achievements in the world of refereeing. And now we want to finish the job, in the best way possible.”
Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Brian Homewood