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Collina a Choice Selection

Soccer: As referee for Brazil-Germany final, Italian has the respect of players and coaches as the best at what he does.

June 29, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YOKOHAMA, Japan — As far as whistle-blowers go, they don't come much better than Pierluigi Collina.

The Italian referee is generally acknowledged to be the finest in the world, a man abundantly qualified to take charge of Sunday's World Cup final between Brazil and Germany.

Cast in the fiery furnace of Italy's Serie A, arguably the most difficult league in the world in which to officiate, Collina, 42, has made himself internationally known.

In part, that's because of his looks. He is one of very few referees in the world whose photograph in a newspaper or magazine needs no caption. His bald dome and his intense, almost glaring, stare together make an unforgettable impression.

More to the point, however, is his ability to stamp his authority on a game without ruining it. Firm but fair, he has the respect of players and coaches alike. Small wonder, then, that when there is a significant and potentially troublesome match to be officiated, Collina is the first to be called.

He had charge, for instance, of the gold-medal game between Argentina and Nigeria at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He was also the man in the middle when Manchester United scored twice in the final minutes to defeat Bayern Munich in the classic 1999 European Champions Cup final in Barcelona.

German fans will remember him, too, as the referee in Munich last September when England routed Germany, 5-1, in a World Cup qualifying game.

At this tournament, he handled the prickly England-Argentina first-round match in Sapporo, Japan, with ease. Once Italy was eliminated, "Kojak" Collina, as he is known, became the overwhelming choice to referee the final.

One measure of the high regard in which he is held came earlier this week when Brazil's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, laughed off any suggestion that Collina might somehow be biased for Germany because he does commercials for a German sports equipment manufacture.

While FIFA fumbled with the question, Scolari dismissed it.

"I was hoping it would be him," Scolari said. "He's a spectacular referee. Everybody likes him. The players like him and I like him. I am very satisfied.... The fact that he has done commercials for Adidas has nothing to do with anything. I have also done commercials. We both made a bit of money. That's all."

Married with two daughters, Collina lives in the Italian coastal town of Viareggio, where he counts basketball among his main interests and closely follows the fortunes of Fortituda Bologna. A financial consultant by profession, he earned an economics degree from the University of Bologna in 1984, and is fluent in half a dozen languages.

He has his own Web site, www.pierluigicollina.it, where he answers questions from referees around the world.

"My job is not to change the game but make it work to everyone's satisfaction," he told World Soccer magazine. "But the priority must be to protect the most skillful footballers from violent play and crack down on diving."

At a World Cup where the officiating has justifiably come under more intense scrutiny than ever after a series of bad calls, Collina has been a beacon in the darkness for the men with the whistles.

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