World’s football governing body FIFA have appointed 43-year old Brazilian, Sandro Meira Ricci as the centre referee for Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup opener against Croatia on Saturday.
Ricci will be officiating in his second FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia and will be at the cynosure of all eyes when former African champions Nigeria lock horns with the Croats in Kaliningrad, starting from 8pm Nigerian time on Saturday.
Ricci will be assisted by compatriots Emerson De Carvalho and Marcelo van Gasse who will be first and second assistant referees respectively in the Group D clash.
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Ricci is famous for being the first ever referee to validate a goal by the means of the Goal-line technology in his debut match as centre referee in the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
The goal came during France’s game against Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15, exactly four years on Friday, one day before Ricci’s appointment in Kaliningrad. His assistants for Saturday’s game have been with him since 2013 and were together in that historic game in Brazil.
Saturday will be the first time Nigeria will have a Brazilian in charge of their FIFA World Cup match although the Eagles’ opening game in Brazil in 2014 (a goalless draw against Iran) was officiated by a South American, from Ecuador.
Despite having South American referees officiate Nigeria’s games at each of their World Cup appearances, the Super Eagles have only won once whenever they are in charge – a 1-0 win over Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
In the same vein, Africa’s highly rated referee, Papa Bakary Gassama from the Gambia will be in charge of Peru’s Group C encounter against Denmark earlier on Saturday. Gassama officiated two of Nigeria’s games (at home to Algeria and away to Cameroon) during their qualification route to Russia.