2018 FIFA World Cup: Referee revealed for Tunisia v England

Colombian official Wilmar Roldan has been tasked with taking charge of England’s Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd.

Wilmar Roldan referee
Established: The South American has vast experience both domestically and internationally, most recently at the Confederations Cup in Russia (Picture from Zimbio.com)

Wilmar Roldan will take charge of England’s first match at the 2018 World Cup against Tunisia, Fifa has confirmed.

The Colombian referee will handle his first game of the tournament, on day five, in the Three Lions’ Group G opener at the newly-built Volgograd Arena in Volgograd on Monday 18 June.

He will be assisted by fellow countrymen Alexander Guzman and Cristian De La Cruz, while the fourth official will be Ricardo Montero of Costa Rica.

Brazil’s Sandro Ricci, who refereed Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday, will be the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). His assistants will be Gary Vargas (Bolivia), Emerson De Carvalho (Brazil) and Tiago Lopes Martins (Portugal).

The game will kick off at 19:00 BST and will be screened live on BBC One in the UK.


WHO IS WILMAR ROLDAN?

The 38-year-old from Remedios has been refereeing in Liga Aguila, Colombia’s top flight, since 2003 and officiating international games for a decade, after becoming a Fifa-listed referee in 2008.

Roldan already has a wealth of experience, with the finals in Russia already his fifth major international tournament.

In 2011, he went to his first Copa America and oversaw three games – two in the group phase and the third-place match between Venezuela and Peru.

After officiating at the 2012 Olympic Games men’s football tournament, the Antioquia-born whistler went to his first World Cup in 2014, handling two matches in Brazil.

He was in the middle for the tournament’s second game, Mexico’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, as well as Algeria’s 4-2 win over South Korea in the group stage.

Last year, Roldan was also in Russia as one of nine referees selected for the Confederations Cup, where he handled the opening match as the host nation beat New Zealand 2-0.

He was also at the helm for eventual winners Germany’s 3-1 victory over Cameroon in Sochi during the group phase.

Roldan’s only involvement at this World Cup so far was as the fourth official for Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Sunday.

Confident and outspoken even at a young age, he earnt the nickname ‘The Castrilli’ for his likeness to famous Argentine whistler Javier Castrilli.

Roldan, who started refereeing at the age of just 14, has emerged as one of the finest in the world and was ranked the seventh best in 2015.


ROLDAN’S VAR CONTROVERSIES

The experienced South American referee has been involved in two VAR controversies in the past year.

The most high-profile incident was in the Confederations Cup last June when he wrongly booked Cameroon’s Sebastien Siani for a recklessly high challenge on Liverpool’s Emre Can in the game against Germany.

Roldan reviewed the incident using VAR but instead of booking the correct player – Ernest Mabouka – he changed Siani’s yellow card to red.

After fierce Cameroon protests, he reviewed the incident a second time pitchside and showed red to the correct culprit Mabouka.

Roldan was also involved in another row over the use of VAR in October last year, with Argentinian outfit River Plate complaining he was to blame for their elimination in the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores against Lanus after a missed handball.


THE REFEREES FOR ENGLAND’S LAST FIVE WORLD CUP OPENERS

The men in charge of the Three Lions’ last five first games of World Cup tournaments have come from a range of continents…

Bjorn Kuipers referee
Man in charge: Experienced Dutchman Kuipers – who has refereed three European finals in the last six years – oversaw England’s defeat against Italy in Manaus (Picture from Sky Sports)

2014: England 1 Italy 2
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands)

2010: England 0 Algeria 0
Referee: Carlos Simon (Brazil)

2006: England 1 Paraguay 0
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (Mexico)

2002: England 1 Sweden 1
Referee: Carlos Simon (Brazil)

1998: England 2 Tunisia 0
Referee: Masayoshi Okada (Japan)


THREE LIONS HOPING FOR GOOD START

England manager Gareth Southgate
First time: Gareth Southgate will be leading England at a major tournament for the first time as manager in Russia (Picture from Getty Images)

After waiting until the fifth day of the tournament to take to the pitch, England will be itching to make a positive first impression in Russia and, most importantly, make a winning start.

Having beaten Nigeria 2-1 at Wembley and Costa Rica 2-0 at Elland Road in warm-up games, Gareth Southgate’s side are unbeaten in 12 matches and didn’t taste defeat in qualifying, winning eight and drawing two of their 10 matches as they topped the group.

They also opened the 1998 World Cup against Tunisia, who they have met twice previously, and ran out 2-0 winners in France, thanks to goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes.

After facing the North Africans, England take on Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on 24 June before facing one of the pre-tournament favourites Belgium in Kaliningrad four days later.


ELSEWHERE…

Janny Sikazwe of Zambia in action
Pedigree: Sikazwe refereed the finals of the 2016 Club World Cup and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Picture from Zimbio.com)

In Monday’s other game in Group G, Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe will take charge of Belgium’s opener against Panama at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi (kick-off 16:00 BST).

The 39-year-old teacher, who has been a Fifa-listed official since 2007, will be assisted by Jerson Dos Santos (Angola) and Zakhele Siwela (South Africa). The fourth official will be Ryuji Sato of Japan, who fulfilled the same role for Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain in Sochi on Friday.

Italian referee in charge of England v Nigeria

Marco Guida will lead an Italian team of officials as the Three Lions begin their final World Cup preparations at Wembley on Saturday.

Referee Marco Guida
Role: Guida was the fourth official for Portugal’s 2-1 friendly win over Egypt back in March (Picture from Zimbio.com)

Marco Guida has been appointed as the referee for England’s friendly with Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday.

The 36-year-old will lead an Italian team of officials at the national stadium, as the Three Lions begin their final preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia against the African nation.

He will be assisted by Riccardo Di Fiore and Alessandro Giallatini, while the fourth official will be Davide Massa – who took charge of England’s 3-2 friendly defeat by France in Paris almost a year ago.

The Video Assistant Referee – which will be deployed at the World Cup – will be in operation, with Michael Fabbri fulfilling the role, assisted by Giulio Dobosz.

Saturday’s match will kick off at 17:15 BST and will be broadcast live on ITV.


WHY MARCO COULD MAKE THE HEADLINES  

Guida – who has officiated in Italy’s top-flight Serie A for seven seasons – is widely known for being card-happy and a strict disciplinarian, generally adopting a no-nonsense approach.

He officiated 24 games in all competitions in 2017/18 – brandishing a massive 103 yellow cards, sending off eight players and awarding five penalties.

In his final Serie A match of the campaign, the Pompei-born official booked 11 players and sent two off in a 1-1 draw between Atalanta and AC Milan.

Guida was also involved in a VAR controversy in February in a top-flight game between Fiorentina and Juventus.

He initially awarded Fiorentina an 18th-minute penalty for a Giorgio Chiellini handball.

But three minutes later – with Jordan Veretout waiting to take the kick – Guida reversed the decision after a VAR consultation and instead awarded a free-kick for offside to Juve, who went on to win the match 2-0 in Florence.


HIS CAREER SO FAR

Referee Marco Guida looks on
Global stage: Guida is one of 10 Italian referees on the Fifa list of international officials (Picture from Zimbio.com)

Guida, who has been refereeing since 1996, made his European debut in 2014 – in the same year he took charge of his first international match, a 2-0 win for Croatia over Cyprus.

Interestingly, he officiated a Chinese Super League match at the end of April as part of an exchange between officials.

Six Italian officials are going to the World Cup – referee Gianluca Rocchi, assistant referees Elenito Di Liberatore and Mauro Tonolini, and Video Assistant Referees Massimiliano Irrati, Daniele Orsato and Paolo Valeri – but Guida is not one of them.

The game at Wembley will be five days before Guida’s 37th birthday, on 7 June.


ENGLAND REUNION FOR GUIDA

Guida was the Video Assistant Referee for England’s 3-2 friendly defeat against France in Paris on 16 June last year and got involved in the game’s controversial incident early in the second half.

Referee Davide Massa awarded a penalty after England midfielder Dele Alli collided with Raphael Varane in the box and appeared to have got a yellow card out for the France defender, but then changed it to red on the advice of Guida.

Coincidentally, it will be two years to the day, 2 June 2016, since Guida was last in charge of an England international – when he oversaw their 1-0 win over Portugal at Wembley in a Euro 2016 warm-up game.

He only two bookings but sent off Portugal defender Bruno Alves after 35 minutes for a wild lunge on England striker Harry Kane.


A STRONG TEST FOR ENGLAND

England manager Gareth Southgate
Ready: Southgate will lead England at a major tournament for the first time as manager this summer (Picture by Getty Images)

England will face fellow 2018 FIFA World Cup finalists Nigeria at Wembley ahead of this summer’s tournament in Russia.

The three-time African Cup of Nations champions will provide an important test for Gareth Southgate’s squad as the Three Lions finalise preparations for group games with Tunisia, Panama and Belgium at the World Cup.

The match should provide an electric atmosphere within the stadium, with lots of support for both nations and a highly anticipated 5:15pm Saturday kick-off in early summer.

England have met Nigeria on two previous occasions at senior level, a 1-0 friendly victory at Wembley in 1994 when David Platt scored the winner, before sharing a goalless draw at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan.

After facing Gernot Rohr’s side, the Three Lions will move on to Leeds United’s Elland Road for a first reunion with Costa Rica since the goalless draw in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup on Thursday 7 June (8pm kick-off).

Southgate will also submit his final 23-man squad for the tournament as per Fifa’s deadline on Monday.


ELSEWHERE ON SATURDAY…

Viktor Kassai
Familiar face: Kassai was the man in the middle for France’s 2-1 win over Romania in the opening match of Euro 2016 (Picture from BBC Sport)

Pavel Kralovec of the Czech Republic will take charge of Germany’s friendly in Austria (kick-off 17:00 BST).

Meanwhile, Germany’s Tobias Stieler will oversee Sweden’s friendly meeting with Denmark in Stockholm (18:45 BST).

And Belgium’s eagerly-anticipated clash with Portugal will be refereed by the experienced Hungarian official Viktor Kassai. The game will be live on MUTV, with kick-off at 19:45 BST.

2018 Scottish Cup final: Kevin Clancy to referee Celtic v Motherwell

X will take charge of the showpiece at Hampden Park on Saturday 19 May.

Referee Kevin Clancy
Maiden: Kevin Clancy will take charge of his first Scottish Cup final (Picture from Sky Sports)

KEVIN Clancy will be the referee for the 2018 Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Motherwell, the Scottish FA has confirmed.

The 34-year-old will take charge of the showpiece at Hampden Park on Saturday 19 May. The 15:00 BST kick-off will be screened live on both Sky Sports and BBC One Scotland.

Clancy will be assisted by Douglas Ross and David Roome, as he was for Motherwell’s 3-0 win over Aberdeen in the semi-finals, with Steven McLean on fourth official duties.

Don Robertson and Nick Walsh will act as additional assistant referees, as they did for Celtic’s 4-0 semi-final win over Rangers which Bobby Madden refereed.

Walsh also fulfilled the same role in last year’s final, while Robertson did so in the 2015 showpiece – which was the first to utilise the extra officials behind each goal.

Ross infuriated Celtic fans when he was caught on camera shouting “red, red, red” before Jozo Simunovic was sent off in their 3-2 Old Firm derby win over Rangers at Ibrox in March.

The assistant referee, who has also been the Conservative MP for Moray since June 2017, will officiate in his second Scottish Cup final after being part of Willie Collum’s team for Celtic’s 3-0 win over Hibernian in 2015.

His fellow linesman Roome will experience his second final of the campaign, having assisted referee Andrew Dallas for the Challenge Cup final in March as Inverness beat Dumbarton 1-0 at St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park.

Meanwhile, McLean was the referee for the 2016 Scottish Cup final when Hibernian beat Rangers 3-2 in a game marred by supporters invading the pitch at full-time, with both clubs later cleared of any wrongdoing.


A BIG DAY FOR CLANCY

Referee Kevin Clancy
Regular: Clancy is in his sixth season as a top-flight referee in Scotland (Picture from Sky Sports)

It is arguably the biggest appointment of Clancy’s career to date as he takes charge of his first Scottish Cup final – the game which is considered to be the pinnacle of a Scottish referee’s career.

The Glasgow-born official will oversee his third major final, after handling the 2014 Challenge Cup final when Raith Rovers stunned Rangers with a 1-0 win at Hibernian’s Easter Road, and the 2016 League Cup final when Ross County beat Hibs 2-1 at Hampden Park.

He has also been the fourth official for two League Cup finals, has refereed several quarter-final and semi-final ties in domestic cup competitions and was an additional assistant referee for the 2014 Scottish Cup final, when St Johnstone beat Dundee United 2-0 at Celtic Park.

Therefore, his considerable big-game experience should stand him in good stead when the pressure will be at fever pitch on cup final day.

Clancy has seemingly been preferred to John Beaton, who was the only other Fifa referee yet to take charge of the showpiece but has connections to Lanarkshire, where Motherwell are situated.

As he has been given the weekend off for the final round of Scottish Premiership games and hasn’t yet been involved in the SPFL play-offs, he has plenty of time to prepare for the clash at the national stadium – which takes place on the same day as the Emirates FA Cup final in England.


HIS SEASON SO FAR

Despite a period of absence through injury, Clancy has continued to make giant strides during what has been another largely successful season for the promising whistler.

He has maintained his presence on the European stage, taking charge of Under-19 and Under-21 European Championship qualifiers, two Uefa Youth League group games and Europa League qualifiers, as well as being an additional assistant referee in the Champions League and Europa League.

On the domestic front, Clancy has been restricted to 15 Scottish Premiership matches because of his spell on the sidelines but still handled semi-finals in both major cup competitions, involving both sides he will encounter on 19 May.

He was in the middle for Celtic’s 4-2 win over Hibernian in the League Cup in October, in which he awarded Hibs a spotkick, and put in a good display as Motherwell swept aside Aberdeen with a 3-0 win in the Scottish Cup last month to reach the final – having already refereed a League Cup quarter-final between the sides in September which resulted in the same scoreline.

The Hampden season finale will be his fourth game in the Scottish Cup this season – after handling Hearts’ 1-0 win over Edinburgh rivals Hibernian at Tynecastle in round four, the Jambos’ 3-0 success against St Johnstone in the fifth round and the aforementioned victory for Motherwell against the Dons.

Clancy has already overseen a game between both finalists this term, booking four players as Celtic thumped Motherwell 5-1 at Celtic Park in the league at the start of December.

In February, he was recently subjected to a barrage of abuse from Hibs head coach Neil Lennon after sending him to the stand in the Edinburgh side’s 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, following the award of a controversial penalty to Killie in the second half.

It led to Lennon slamming the refereeing standards in Scotland and claiming that managers should be able to send off officials. His comments and furious reaction led to him being given a three-match touchline ban.

Overall, he has refereed 40 games across eight different competitions so far in 2017/18 – brandishing 167 yellow cards, sending off five players and awarding seven penalties.

Celtic have only lost one of their 26 games with Clancy in charge – winning 23 and drawing twice. That solitary defeat, however, did come in their last match with the official at the helm – their 1-0 defeat at Kilmarnock at the start of February.

Meanwhile, Motherwell have a more mixed record with the Fifa referee in charge – winning half of their 20 games that Clancy has refereed in all competitions, drawing three and losing seven.


HOW HE HAS REACHED THIS STAGE

Referee Kevin Clancy
Established: Clancy has long since secured his status among Scotland’s leading contingent of referees (Picture from BBC Scotland)

Clancy first took up the whistle in 2000 and was admitted to the Scottish FA five years later.

The Renfrewshire-based official was promoted to a Category One referee in 2009 and – having hugely impressed in the SFL – oversaw his first SPL match in April 2012.

Such was his fast progression, he was even recognised by Fifa – one of seven currently from Scotland on the list – before his promotion to the top-flight had been confirmed.

Clancy recently missed out on a place in Willie Collum’s team of officials for Euro 2016 in France in the summer, with Bobby Madden and John Beaton instead selected as additional assistant referees.

He has handled several Europa League games and been behind the goal in Champions League matches, and is widely regarded as a lenient referee who keeps control of games and rarely attracts controversy.


SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION

There hasn’t been much reaction to the news on Twitter as of yet, with most Motherwell fans seemingly relieved that it’s not Craig Thomson in charge.

Here are some responses…


LAST 10 SCOTTISH CUP FINAL REFEREES

Craig Thomson and Willie Collum
Experienced: Five of the last 10 Scottish Cup finals have been refereed by Fifa officials Craig Thomson (left) and Willie Collum (Pictures from Sky Sports)

2017: Bobby Madden – Celtic 2 Aberdeen 1
2016: Steven McLean – Rangers 2 Hibernian 3
2015: Willie Collum – Inverness 2 Falkirk 1
2014: Craig Thomson – St Johnstone 2 Dundee United 0 (Celtic Park)
2013: Willie Collum – Hibernian 0 Celtic 3
2012: Craig Thomson – Hibernian 1 Hearts 5
2011: Calum Murray – Motherwell 0 Celtic 3
2010: Dougie McDonald – Dundee United 3 Ross County 0
2009: Craig Thomson – Rangers 1 Falkirk 0
2008: Stuart Dougal – Queen of the South 2 Rangers 3


CELTIC ON CUSP OF DOUBLE TREBLE

The Hoops have the opportunity to complete an unprecedented feat of winning back-to-back Trebles – consisting of the Premiership title, League Cup and Scottish Cup.

Celtic wrapped up a seventh consecutive league crown by thrashing Old Firm rivals Rangers 5-0 at Hampden Park at the end of April and beat Motherwell 2-0 at the national stadium in the final of the League Cup back in November, thanks to a James Forrest strike and Moussa Dembele penalty.

Dembele’s trophy-clinching second goal from the spot came as the result of a controversial incident, as Motherwell’s French defender Cedric Kipre was given his marching orders by referee Craig Thomson for the feintest of brushes on Scott Sinclair inside the box.

Now only the men from Fir Park stand in the way of yet more history for Celtic and Brendan Rodgers, who has already won every domestic trophy available to him since arriving at Parkhead in the summer of 2016.

But Stephen Robinson’s Motherwell can take some encouragement from their most recent meeting with the champions, having held them to a goalless draw at Fir Park in March, despite playing with 10 men since the 41st minute when Kipre was again dismissed by ref Thomson.

Celtic are already the most successful side in the history of the Scottish Cup – having reached the final of the famous old competition for the 57th time and they are looking for a 38th triumph.

The Hoops had to come from behind to beat Aberdeen 2-1 in last season’s final, which was refereed by Bobby Madden, thanks to a late goal from Tom Rogic.

This year’s showpiece is a repeat of the 2011 Scottish Cup final, which the Hoops won 3-0 under Neil Lennon – a game refereed by the now retired official Calum Murray.


POLL: Have your say by casting your vote below…

2018 Non-League Finals Day: Match officials confirmed for Wembley showpieces

Chris Kavanagh and John Brooks will take charge of the FA Trophy and FA Vase finals respectively on Sunday 20 May, the Football Association has confirmed.

Referees Chris Kavanagh and John Brooks
Men in charge: Chris Kavanagh (left) and John Brooks will enjoy a day out as a referee at Wembley for the first time

THE match officials have been confirmed for the third annual Non-League Finals Day at Wembley Stadium.

Both the Buildbase FA Trophy and FA Vase finals will take place on Sunday 20 May 2018 and will be broadcast live on BT Sport, while all four teams involved preparing for their first-ever trips to the national stadium.

Premier League referee Chris Kavanagh will take charge as Brackley Town face Bromley in the Trophy showpiece (kick-off 16:15 BST).

And Football League official John Brooks will be in the middle for Stockton Town against Thatcham Town (kick-off 12:15 BST), as the Vase reaches a climax under the arch in the capital.


A FIRST, AT LAST, FOR CHRIS

Chris Kavanagh signals
Highly-rated: The former Manchester County FA Referee Development Manager impressed during three years in the Football League (Picture from Sky Sports)

After two previous visits as a fourth official, Chris Kavanagh will be the man in the middle for a game at Wembley for the first time.

He was on electronic board duties for the 2015 FA Vase final between Glossop North End and North Shields, as well as the League One Play-Off final between Scunthorpe United and Millwall last season.

The appointment is worthy recognition for a burgeoning career as a promising referee, who could well be in contention to be included on the Fifa list in the near future.

Kavanagh will be assisted on the day by Daniel Cook (Hampshire) and Daniel Robathan (Norfolk), with Michael Salisbury (Lancashire) appointed as the fourth official.


HIS SEASON SO FAR

The 31-year-old has enjoyed a fine first full season in the top flight so far and has largely stayed under the radar, while quietly impressing.

To date, he has officiated 28 games in all competitions in 2017/18, brandishing 93 yellow cards, sending off four players and awarding four penalties.

Kavanagh had to be patient at the start of the season but has performed well overall in his 14 Premier League matches so far this term.

He correctly booked Huddersfield’s Rajiv van La Parra for diving in their goalless draw at Burnley in September and was eagle-eyed to spot an elbow by Everton’s Ashley Williams on Burnley’s Ashley Barnes in the Clarets’ 2-1 win at Turf Moor in March, in his first televised Premier League game.

But Kavanagh attracted headlines recently when he contentiously booked Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha for a perceived dive in the penalty area during their goalless draw away to Watford.


KAVANAGH’S RAPID RISE

Referee Chris Kavanagh looks on
Elite level: Kavanagh, the only official to be promoted to the Premier League last summer, is one of 18 referees who take charge of top-flight games (Picture from Sky Sports)

Kavanagh has worked his way up the football pyramid since first taking up the whistle in 1998 at the age of 13 but has enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in recent seasons.

The Manchester-born referee, who lives in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, plied his trade in local matches before being promoted to the National League in 2012.

After impressing in the Dallas Cup in the summer of 2014 as part of a PGMOL development programme, he was elevated to the Football League in 2014/15 and quickly established himself as a regular, while earning rave reviews for his consistently high-level performances.

Kavanagh was part of the Select Group 2 – a group of professional referees who primarily officiate in the Championship – last season and refereed 27 second-tier matches.

He received a trial Premier League game in April 2017, booking four players as Southampton beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at The Hawthorns, and was then promoted to the Select Group last summer – effectively as a replacement for Mark Clattenburg, who moved to work in Saudi Arabia.


LAST FIVE FA TROPHY FINAL REFEREES

This showpiece has traditionally been appointed to Premier League officials who are still making their way and settling into the top flight, so Kavanagh’s selection for the game certainly fits the current trend.

2017 – Macclesfield Town 2 York City 3
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)

2016 – FC Halifax Town 1 Grimsby Town 0
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)

2015 – North Ferriby United 3 * Wrexham 3 (North Ferriby won 5-4 on penalties)
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

2014 – Cambridge United 4 Gosport Borough
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

2013 – Grimsby Town 1 Wrexham 1 * (Wrexham won 4-1 on penalties)
Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)


HOW BOTH SIDES REACHED THIS STAGE

Brackley enjoyed two wins in both legs of their semi-final with fellow sixth-tier side Wealdstone, a 1-0 victory at home before a Shane Byrne free-kick and an Aaron Williams goal secured a 3-0 aggregate triumph.

Meanwhile, in an all-National League last-four clash, Bromley’s 3-2 first-leg advantage over Gateshead was extended thanks to Fraser Kerr’s own goal, which meant Scott Barrow’s wonder strike secured a 4-3 aggregate victory.


JUST REWARD FOR EXCELLENT BROOKS

Referee John Brooks signals for a free-kick
Tipped to succeed: Brooks is something of a prodigy in the mould of leading Premier League referee Michael Oliver

Like Kavanagh, it will be a first match in the middle at the national stadium for John Brooks.

The Leicestershire whistler has endured a busy campaign – only his second in the EFL since being promoted from the National League at the start of 2016/17.

But the 28-year-old has made a rapid rise and has made a big impression with some mature displays.

He has handled 48 games so far in 2017/18 across seven different competitions – issuing 145 yellow cards, sending off six players and awarding 15 penalties.

The bulk of his matches have been in League One but his consistent top-level performances earned him a step-up to the Championship, where he has refereed on two occasions.

Brooks was in charge of Brentford’s 2-0 win at Sunderland in February and Ipswich’s goalless draw with Sheffield United in March – brandishing three yellow cards in each match.

He has been at Wembley before as an assistant referee for two big games – the 2014 Championship Play-Off final and 2016 Emirates FA Cup final.

But this is his first major match at Wembley as a referee, which is only a further reflection of his progress and another deserved appointment for the Melton Mowbray-born official.

He will be assisted on the day by Adrian Waters (Hertfordshire) and Craig Taylor (Staffordshire), with Antony Coggins (Oxfordshire) on fourth official duties.


A COOL CUSTOMER ON THE BIG STAGE

Assistant referee John Brooks
Coming of age: Brooks operated on some big Premier League games as a linesman from the age of 21 for four seasons (Picture from Sky Sports)

Brooks might be remembered by some football fans as being an assistant referee in the top flight for four seasons – a pressurised stage on which he performed to a high standard week in week out.

In his first campaign in 2012/13, he was notoriously dropped from an FA Cup tie to protect him from media attention after telling Manchester City players to thank fans who paid £62 for a ticket to see their team beat Arsenal 2-0 in a Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium in 2013.

Brooks developed into a regular on the line in the Premier League and often worked with the vastly experienced Mike Dean, while he was also elevated to international status as a Fifa assistant referee in 2015 for a year.

He then moved to concentrate on his refereeing and, after impressing in the National League, got his big chance to oversee League One and League Two matches and hasn’t looked back.

The next step for him is to follow in the footsteps of his fellow former Premier League linesman Darren England, who refereed last year’s FA Vase final and was then promoted to the Select Group 2 panel of dedicated Championship officials to replace Chris Kavanagh last summer.


LAST FIVE FA VASE FINAL REFEREES

This particular showpiece has, in recent times, been rewarded to young and promising Football League officials in order to gain some further big-game experience, so the appointment of Brooks fits the bill.

2017 – Cleethorpes Town 0 South Shields 4
Referee: Darren England (South Yorkshire)

2016 – Hereford 1 Morpeth Town 4
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)

2015 – Glossop North End 1 North Shields 2 (after extra time)
Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire)

2014 – Sholing 1 West Auckland Town 0
Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)

2013 – Spennymoor Town 2 Tunbridge Wells 1
Referee: Michael Naylor (South Yorkshire)


HOW BOTH TEAMS GOT HERE

Thatcham overcame 1874 Northwich 3-2 at the Barton Stadium to become the first Hellenic League side since Didcot in 2006 to reach the Vase final.

Elsewhere, Stockton, of Northern League Division One, endured a tense 2-1 defeat at home to Marske United but still prevailed 3-2 on aggregate to book their place at Wembley for the first time in their history.

Who will take charge of the Scottish Cup semi-finals?

The match officials have been revealed for the Motherwell v Aberdeen and Celtic v Rangers ties at Hampden Park on 14 and 15 April respectively.

Consistent: Bobby Madden (left) and Kevin Clancy have been two of the top performing officials in Scotland and Europe this season (Pictures from Sky Sports)

The match official appointments have been made for the semi-finals of the 2017-18 William Hill Scottish Cup at Hampden Park.

Bobby Madden will take charge of the eagerly anticipated Old Firm derby clash between holders Celtic and Rangers on Sunday, April 15. Kick-off will be at 14:30 BST and the game will be screened live on Sky Sports.

Meanwhile, Kevin Clancy will be in the middle for Motherwell against Aberdeen on Saturday, April 14. The 12:15 BST kick-off will be shown live on Sky Sports and BBC One Scotland.


BOBBY GETS THE BIG ONE

Referee Bobby Madden
Tough times: Madden bravely battled thyroid cancer back in 2016 (Picture from Sky Sports)

It was always going to be interesting to see who would be selected to officiate what is always likely to be an explosive affair, as the two Glasgow giants go head to head for a place in the final.

With Willie Collum taking charge of the most recent Old Firm clash, in the league at Ibrox last month, he was seemingly out of the equation, while Craig Thomson handled two recent semi-final showdowns between the sides in the cups – and the first league encounter this season.

Aside from Scottish football’s two leading referees, it didn’t leave many options who have significant experience of this most tempestuous of fixtures.

Referee Willie Collum
Man in black: The Euro 2016 whistler sent off Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic in the Hoops’ 3-2 league win at Ibrox on 11 March (Picture from Sky Sports)

Andrew Dallas is yet to receive his Old Firm derby initiation but, although he is making considerable progress, it would have been a huge gamble to appoint him to an occasion with so much riding on it, and unfair on the official himself to effectively throw him into the deep end on the big stage.

Kevin Clancy is also awaiting his first taste of one of the fiercest rivalries in world football, while John Beaton was eased into the spotlight when handed the final league derby of last season – awarding a penalty inside six minutes as Celtic cruised to a 5-1 victory at Ibrox almost 12 months ago.

With two Old Firm derbies already under his belt, it left last season’s Scottish Cup final official Madden as the main contender for the role and he has now been duly appointed – a wise move given what’s at stake.

Not only is it another feather in his cap, it is also more vital experience of the biggest of games that every referee in Scotland wants to officiate for the highly-rated 39-year-old – and his first Old Firm derby away from Parkhead.

Referee Bobby Madden
Bookings: Madden has brandished six yellow cards in each of his two Old Firm derbies so far (Picture from Sky Sports)

The Fifa whistler caused outrage among Celtic fans when he waved away claims for a penalty in the last minute of last season’s 1-1 draw, after Leigh Griffiths fell under a challenge from Clint Hill.

But he had a solid game when the sides played out a goalless draw just after Christmas in the league.

Madden booked two players and performed well as Celtic beat Aberdeen 2-1 in the 2017 Scottish Cup final at Hampden to complete a domestic treble without losing a game.

That was his second major domestic final at the national stadium after handling Celtic’s 2-0 win over Dundee United in the 2015 League Cup final, in which he sent off United skipper Sean Dillon early in the second half.

The East Kilbride official has refereed 35 games so far this season across six different competitions – dishing out 116 bookings and five red cards, as well as awarding 12 penalties.

Madden was in the middle for Northern Ireland’s recent 2-1 international friendly win over South Korea and his most recent outing was Hibernian’s 1-1 draw at Ross County in the Scottish Premiership last weekend, in which he booked two players.

He will be assisted on the day by David McGeachie and Graeme Stewart. Don Robertson and Nick Walsh will act as additional assistants behind each goal, while Steven McLean is the fourth official.


RECENT OLD FIRM DERBY REFEREES:

11 Mar 2018: Rangers 2 Celtic 3 (Scottish Premiership) – Willie Collum
30 Dec 2017: Celtic 0 Rangers 0 (Scottish Premiership) – Bobby Madden
23 Sept 2017: Rangers 0 Celtic 2 (Scottish Premiership) – Craig Thomson
29 April 2017: Rangers 1 Celtic 5 (Scottish Premiership) – John Beaton
23 April 2017: Celtic 2 Rangers 0 (Scottish Cup) – Willie Collum
12 March 2017: Celtic 1 Rangers 1 (Scottish Premiership) – Bobby Madden
31 Dec 2016: Rangers 1 Celtic 2 (Scottish Premiership) – Steven McLean
23 Oct 2016: Rangers 0 Celtic 1 (Scottish League Cup) – Craig Thomson
10 Sept 2016: Celtic 5 Rangers 1 (Scottish Premiership) – Willie Collum


SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION

Perhaps predictably, there was a largely negative reaction to news of Madden’s appointment for the Scottish Cup semi-final blockbuster, with many fans from both sides of the derby divide taking to Twitter to have their say…


MORE RECOGNITION FOR CLANCY

Kevin Clancy referee
Established: Clancy continues to make giant strides and is always in contention to officiate the big games in Scotland (Picture from Sky Sports)

Clancy has been chosen to take charge of the first of the two semi-final ties – another sign of his excellent progress and how well-regarded he is by the Scottish FA.

He also took charge of a League Cup semi-final earlier in the season, awarding Hibernian a contentious penalty which gave them brief hope in their 4-2 defeat against Celtic back in October.

His other major match at Hampden Park was the 2016 Scottish League Cup final, booking two players as Ross County scored late on to lift the trophy for the first time with a 2-1 victory over Hibernian.

Clancy was recently subjected to a barrage of abuse from Hibs head coach Neil Lennon after sending him to the stand in the Edinburgh side’s 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, following the award of a controversial penalty to Killie in the second half.

It led to Lennon slamming the refereeing standards in Scotland and claiming that managers should be able to send off officials. His comments and furious reaction led to him being given a three-match touchline ban.

Referee Kevin Clancy
On screen: Clancy has been a regular in front of the television cameras in Scottish football this season (Picture from Sky Sports)

It’s been another season in which the 34-year-old Fifa official has made giant strides, overseeing UEFA Youth League games, Europa League qualifiers, Euro Under-19 Championship qualifiers and European Under-21 Championship qualifiers.

On the domestic front, he also took charge of Motherwell’s 3-0 League Cup quarter-final triumph over Aberdeen and the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie between Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibernian.

Clancy has officiated 36 games in all competitions so far in 2017/18, brandishing a massive 153 yellow cards and sending off five players, as well as pointing to the penalty spot six times.

His most recent outing was in Dundee’s 1- 1 draw with Hearts at Dens Park on 1 April. He had a busy first half in particular, booking six players including Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty for diving but he has since had his yellow card rescinded.

He will be assisted on the day by Douglas Ross MP and David Roome, with Greg Aitken on electronic board duties as the fourth official. Andrew Dallas and Alan Muir will be the additional assistant referees.


HAVE YOUR SAY…

We’re down to the final four in the world’s oldest cup competition but who do you think will make it back to Hampden for the final on Saturday 19 May?

Cast your vote now in the poll…

Opinion: Andrew Dallas can be Scotland’s best referee

Why Andrew Dallas has the potential, in time, to be Scottish football’s leading referee – just like his father more than a decade ago.

Referee Andrew Dallas
Target: Dallas has been lambasted by fans, pundits and managers for his decision-making for many years (Picture from BBC Scotland)

As far as the limelight in Scottish football is concerned, referee Andrew Dallas isn’t normally too far away from the headlines – for one reason or another.

He has been the subject of ridicule and constant criticism since taking up the whistle in 2012/13, particularly when stepping up to the unforgiving environment of the Scottish Premiership at the start of the 2014/15 season.

It would be fair to say it has sometimes been warranted but too often it has gone too far, although not quite to the level experienced by his colleague Willie Collum, who received death threats after awarding a controversial penalty in an Old Firm match in 2010.

Dallas has often been too brash and almost tried too hard to get himself noticed but has come a long way since being branded ‘devious and manipulative’ by Kenny Shiels in 2013 and ‘not ready’ to officiate in the top flight by John Hughes in 2015.

Mistakes are part and parcel of the game and a referee’s development. Like any official, he has had his fair share.

Referee Andrew Dallas
Top flight: Dallas has handled more than 50 Premiership games since his promotion in 2014 (Picture from Sky Sports)

Dallas wrongly booked Hearts midfielder Malaury Martin, thinking he had tripped Motherwell’s Louis Moult, when in fact the striker had fallen over his own team-mate Lionel Ainsworth in a Premiership clash at Tynecastle in February 2017. In fairness, he later rang then Hearts boss Ian Cathro to apologise for the error.

Back in August, Partick Thistle boss Alan Archibald was left in doubt that Dallas should have awarded a last-minute penalty for his side, who were trailing 1-0 to Celtic in the Glasgow derby at Firhill when Nir Bitton appeared to impede Miles Storey in the box.

More recently, he gave St Johnstone midfielder David Wotherspoon his marching orders for a second bookable offence in their 1-0 defeat at Hearts – a decision which was branded ‘ridiculous’ by Saints boss Tommy Wright, who appears to have his own vendetta against Dallas.

“Same old, same old with that same referee,” Wright told BBC Scotland after the game. “I have been [disappointed] most of the times I’ve had him. I have probably spoken to [SFA Head of Referee Operations] John Fleming more about Andrew Dallas than any referee. Nothing seems to change.”

He has been under-fire and naturally took time to adapt to the rigours of the rough and tumble of Premiership football but has come on leaps and downs, in the last 12 months alone.

Earlier this month, Dallas was slammed on social media for disallowing an early goal for Motherwell in their Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Hearts but, by the letter of the law, which the referees know inside out, he was spot on as Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin had the ball within his grasp – even if it was just with one hand.

He was also right to award Hearts a penalty after Cedric Kipre wiped out Steven Naismith and ignore appeals for a second spotkick for Craig Levein’s side late on for handball after the ball struck Andy Rose, but it wasn’t intentional. Getting the big calls right is the main thing that should be expected of a referee and he did that in the important tie at Fir Park.

His appointment to the second major domestic showpiece of the season – the Challenge Cup final between Dumbarton and Inverness Caley Thistle – was fully merited and will no doubt be the first final of many for the 35-year-old during his career.

Although it’s the least glamorous trophy of them all, it was still a big occasion for the two Championship clubs that he knew well, at a ground he has become accustomed to refereeing at in St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park.

Proud moment: Dallas lined up alongside assistants David Roome and Daniel McFarlane ahead of his first major final (Picture from BBC ALBA)

He put in a solid display overall and stayed under the radar – issuing five yellow cards and correctly awarding Inverness a late penalty for handball by Dumbarton left-back Chris McLaughlin, which Iain Vigurs had saved by Sons stopper Scott Gallacher before Carl Tremarco spared his team-mate’s blushes with a last-gasp winner.

Being awarded the final of the competition which is primarily for Championship, League One and League Two clubs in Scotland acted as a springboard in the successful careers of fellow officials Craig Thomson and Calum Murray, to name but two.

Despite some boos ringing around the ground as he stepped up to collect his medal after the game, Dallas could be happy of his performance and undoubtedly his father Hugh would have been proud of his display as he watched on from the stands.

Dallas has the shadow of his dad – the last Scotsman to go to a World Cup who spent 15 years officiating in Scotland before hanging up his whistle in 2005 – to contend with and there are always going to be comparisons drawn between them.

Roles: Dallas acted as a referee observer for the SPL and then UEFA after retiring as a referee (Picture from Zimbio.co.uk)

But he has spoken in the past about how his old man has been “invaluable” to him and he was the one who suggested that he took up the whistle in the first place. Claims that he has progressed as far as he has to date because of his father’s stature are also unfair, because he has reached the highest level on merit through his own hard work and determination.

Dallas has already demonstrated his capabilities and didn’t get fast-tracked on to the Fifa list in January 2015 for no reason.

2017/18 really has been a breakthrough campaign for the promising official, who has handled matches in the Europa League, a 2018 World Cup qualifier, a Champions League qualifier and numerous European youth games.

Closer to home, he’s been trusted with some key top-flight matches – including an Edinburgh derby debut in October, Rangers’ 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Ibrox in November and Hibernian’s 2-0 victory over the Dons in another significant contest in the battle to finish the best of the rest behind Celtic.

It is evident that the Scottish Football Association are fully behind Dallas, who is not afraid to give big decisions and generally stays calm under intense pressure – even on the big stage.

With Collum and Thomson out in front as Scotland’s leading officials, Dallas has some way to go to join the elite but the signs are there that he can at least be third in line for high-profile games on the domestic front and even go on to follow the footsteps of the pair – and his father before them – on the European and international scene.

He has already reaped the benefits of working closely with Collum, who he has regularly trained with, and being coached by fellow Fifa whistler Steven McLean.

“They’ve been fantastic in offering advice and encouragement and they’re always available for a chat about decisions and incidents from matches,” Dallas once said in an interview.

Referee Andrew Dallas in action
On the way up: Dallas has rapidly risen through the ranks but still has work to do to reach the levels his father Hugh did during his distinguished career (Picture from Sky Sports)

He got a bird’s eye view of Collum’s excellent display in Celtic’s 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox as the fourth official – a selective appointment made with careful consideration.

Selecting him to carry out electronic board duties undoubtedly had the near future in mind and suggests an Old Firm derby debut in the middle isn’t too far away, particularly as he’s the last of the seven Fifa referees to get a first taste of one of world football’s fiercest rivalries.

It could happen as early as next month in the Scottish Cup semi-final showdown at Hampden Park but it’s more likely to be a more experienced official in charge given the magnitude of the occasion.

Last May, former top-flight referee Charlie Richmond expressed his belief that Dallas is under more pressure to perform than some of his colleagues because of his father and still had plenty to prove.

“If he is to avoid having the mud slung at him, he has to cut out the big mistakes because they are becoming too regular,” he wrote in his Daily Record column.

This season has been one of real progress for Dallas, who has learned a lot and proven he’s not just a rookie and gaffe-prone referee but can handle matches at a high level.

He still has hurdles to climb over but, with age on his side and advice readily on hand in the form of his old man, he has the potential to be the cream of the crop – if fans and pundits alike can cut him some slack and let him develop.

POLL: Have your say about Andrew Dallas by casting your vote below…

Deniz Aytekin to referee England v Italy with VAR

The experienced German official will be at the helm for Tuesday’s friendly at Wembley Stadium, in which the Video Assistant Referee will be in operation.

Deniz Aytekin referee
Man in the middle: Aytekin (centre) will be in charge of his first match at Wembley Stadium (Picture from BT Sport)

German referee Deniz Aytekin will take charge of England’s friendly with Italy at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday night, in which the video assistant referee (VAR) will be in operation.

Aytekin will lead a team of officials from Germany as he will be assisted by Eduard Beitinger and Rafael Foltyn, with Marco Fritz acting as fourth official.

Daniel Siebert will be monitoring screens from Stockley Park as the VAR, aided by Benjamin Brand.

The 20:00 BST kick-off will be shown live on ITV.


VAR MAKES ANOTHER APPEARANCE

VAR screen
Mixed reaction: VAR has divided opinion among the football world since being trialled in selected cup games in England this season (Picture from BBC Sport)

The clash between two European giants at the national stadium will see another outing for the new technology which has certainly stirred debate among fans, pundits and the media alike in its first few months in English football.

Tuesday’s friendly will be another trial of the system, which will be used for the third time in an England fixture.

It had a quiet night in the goalless draw with Germany at Wembley back in November, but it was a major talking point in the 3-2 defeat against France last June.

Trailing 2-1 at half-time, Harry Kane drew England level three minutes into the second half in the friendly in Paris after French defender Raphael Varane was sent off for a collision with Dele Alli – a decision which required the intervention of the video assistant referee Marco Guido.

He confirmed Italian referee Davide Massa’s original decision to award the spot-kick, resulting in the dismissal of Real Madrid’s Varane – much to the disgust of the France players and the home crowd.

Aytekin will be used to operating with the system as the Bundesliga has trialled using VAR this season. Although it has experienced many teething problems and hasn’t been regarded as an overwhelming success, clubs have voted to retain its use in Germany’s top-flight next season.

Fifa confirmed last week that the system, which is only supposed to intervene when the on-field referee has made a “clear and obvious error”, will be employed at the World Cup in Russia this summer.


AYTEKIN’S SEASON SO FAR

The experienced official – who handled last season’s German Cup final as Borussia Dortmund beat Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 in Berlin – has had a largely quiet campaign so far, taking charge of only 22 games in all competitions to date.

Aytekin has brandished 96 yellow cards, at an average of four per game, and sent off seven players while he has awarded 10 penalties – including one in four successive matches in the Bundesliga between December and February.

Deniz Aytekin 2017/18 stats
Statistics: Deniz Aytekin’s 2017/18 record so far in numbers (Picture from transfermarkt.co.uk)

His busiest game by far was back in mid-October when he sent off two players and pointed to the penalty spot twice as Borussia Dortmund’s unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season came to an end in a 3-2 defeat at home to rivals RB Leipzig.

Aytekin also handled three games during the group stage of the UEFA Champions League but is yet to feature in the knockout stages, which means he could be in line to officiate a quarter-final tie when the competition resumes next month.


A FAMILIAR FACE

Some fans of English clubs who regularly feature in Europe may recognise Aytekin, who has took charge of a number of Champions League and Europa League games involving Premier League teams.

He was in the middle for Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Club Brugge in the first leg of their Champions League play-off in August 2015 under previous boss Louis van Gaal.

Aytekin sent off defender Brandon Mechele for two bookable offences for the Belgian visitors in the 80th minute and allowed enough added time for Marouane Fellaini to score a tie-settling third goal for the Reds in the 94th minute – much to the dismay of Club Brugge boss Michel Preud’homme.

He also dismissed United defender Eric Bailly in the second leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie against Saint-Etienne for a second yellow card in the 63rd minute of their 1-0 win at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, which wrapped up a convincing 4-0 success on aggregate.

Deniz Aytekin referee
Staying at home: Aytekin won’t be going to the World Cup this summer as Felix Brych will be Germany’s representative again (Picture from Sky Sports)

While, three years ago, Aytekin was in the middle for Arsenal’s disastrous 3-1 home defeat by Monaco in the Champions League last-16 first leg. The Gunners won 2-0 in France in the second leg but crashed out of the competition at the first hurdle in the knockout stages once again.

More recently, he will be remembered as the referee who made several controversial and game-changing decisions as Barcelona overturned a 4-0 deficit to beat Paris St-Germain 6-1 in a dramatic Champions League last-16 second-leg tie last season.

Despite complaints from PSG and calls for him to be suspended, Aytekin avoided punishment from Uefa.


A STERN DISCIPLINARIAN

Aytekin is of Turkish descent but was born in Nuremberg, West Germany, and now lives in Oberasbach, Bavaria.

Outside of refereeing, the 39-year-old is also a successful internet entrepreneur and has 75 employees under his charge.

In Germany, he is regarded as a stern disciplinarian and a strict official who is not afraid to issue cards.

Aytekin achieved notoriety back in 2011 for abandoning a Bundesliga match between St Pauli and Schalke 04 in the 89th minute because a supporter threw a plastic cup of beer, coins and lighters in the direction of his assistant Thorsten Schiffner.

The decision resulted in St Pauli playing their next home match against Werder Bremen behind closed doors.

Deniz Aytekin referee
Established: Aytekin first started officiating in the Bundesliga in the 2008/09 season (Picture from BT Sport)

Aytekin is now in his 10th season as a Bundesliga referee, having handled his first match back in August 2008.

He joined the Fifa list of international officials in 2011 and became a member of Uefa’s elite referees panel three years later.

Such is the fact he is held in high regard both in Europe and across the world, Aytekin was invited by the Chinese Football Association to officiate three matches in the Chinese Super League at the back end of last season.


PREVIOUS ENGLAND RECORD

Aytekin will encounter England for the third time in Tuesday’s friendly at Wembley, with his previous two internationals involving the Three Lions both coming back in 2016.

He took charge of the 2-1 win over Turkey at the Etihad Stadium in May in the first warm-up game for Euro 2016, dishing out three yellow cards and awarding England a second-half penalty which was missed by Harry Kane.

Then, just five months later, Aytekin was in the middle again as Gareth Southgate’s side played out a goalless draw against Slovenia in Ljubljana in their second World Cup qualifier. He showed yellow cards to four players as England stuttered to a stalemate which was largely secured thanks to a string of fine saves from goalkeeper Joe Hart.

It will be the first time he will take charge of a match at Wembley and it will only be his second Italy game after overseeing the Azzuri’s 1-1 draw with Spain in a friendly two years ago.


ELSEWHERE ON TUESDAY NIGHT…

Austrian official Harald Lechner will take charge of his first Scotland match as the Tartan Army face Hungary in a friendly in Budapest, looking for a positive result after Friday’s 1-0 defeat against Costa Rica at Hampden Park on Alex McLeish’s return as manager.

Meanwhile, Scottish referee John Beaton will be at the helm for Denmark’s friendly meeting with Chile in Aalborg.

And English referee Anthony Taylor will be back in the middle for a mouthwatering friendly between 2010 World Cup winners Spain and 2014 runners-up Argentina in Madrid.

Anthony Taylor referee
International action: Taylor was also in charge of Sweden’s friendly clash with Chile in Stockholm on Saturday (Picture from Sky Sports)

PREPARATIONS CONTINUE FOR RUSSIA

A youthful England will be looking to build on Friday’s 1-0 win over the Netherlands, when Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard scored the winner in the second half in Amsterdam.

The Three Lions face another stern test against the 2006 world champions – less than three months before their World Cup opener against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18.

England met Italy in their first match of the tournament four years ago in Brazil and suffered a 2-1 defeat which sparked a disappointing group phase as they crashed out, collecting just a solitary point from three matches.

The two nations then met in a friendly in March 2015 as Andros Townsend’s spectacular second-half goal earned a 1-1 draw for the Three Lions in Turin.

POLL: Have your say on how England will do against Italy by voting below…