Pierluigi Collina and his colleagues will have to ask themselves: Whom do we trust to take charge of the opener game? As usual, opener matches are special and not comparable to other matches. On paper, France vs Romania is neither the most irrelevant nor the most important match. But it still is the opener game of the largest European Championships ever. From psychological research we know how important first impressions are. This also counts here. Collina and co. have a massive interest in conveying a good first image of their referees into the world of football. The main goal should be: No talk about the referees. Something which clearly went wrong back at EURO 2012 (Carlos Velasco in Poland vs Greece...).
So: UEFA will want one of their absolute top men to take control over that match. But an opener game is not only important against the background of leaving a good first impression. It is also an opportunity to send clear signals with regard to where the journey will take the 24 national teams, to make clear what refereeing style and line can be expected and to thus create predictability.
Predictability is only possible if you do not send too extreme signals. Velasco Carballo for example was extremely pedantic (in his disciplinary control) in the EURO 2016 opener, which however did not really count for the rest of the tournament.
For this reason, I think that UEFA will select a referee who embodies kind of an average refereeing style. With 18 referees attending the tournament, there are naturally fundamental differences in their approach and attitude. I have tried to classify referees using a 2x2 typology coordinate system to identify referees that would fulfill this "average style"-criterion. Based on scientific research on officiating, I have chosen the following 2 axes:
1) Focus on the Laws of the Game vs Focus on Game-Management
2) Empathic Proximity vs Authoritative Distance
(player-orientated, co-operative refereeing style vs distanced, authoritative and "official" style)
These 4 aspects should neither be positive nor negatively connoted. They all have their justification and are suitable for different types of games.
That's the result:
1 = Atkinson (ENG), 2 = Brych (GER), 3 = Çakır (TUR), 4 = Clattenburg (ENG), 5 = Collum (SCO), 6 = Eriksson (SWE), 7 = Hațegan (ROU), 8 = Karasev (RUS), 9 = Kassai (HUN), 10 = Královec (CZE), 11 = Kuipers (NED), 12 = Marciniak (POL), 13 = Mažić (SRB), 14 = Moen (NOR), 15 = Rizzoli (ITA), 16 = Skomina (SVN), 17 = Turpin (FRA), 18 = Velasco (ESP)
Please keep in mind that the mathematical allocation to the different styles is - although based on our many reports of the past seasons - highly subjective. You might disagree with one or the other - or even most of them.
Just based on that, the officials who are closest to the average (calculated by simple means), are: Szymon Marciniak, Martin Atkinson, Felix Brych, Mark Clattenburg, Damir Skomina and Viktor Kassai.
As I think that UEFA will really choose one of their Top 5 officials based on current form, Marciniak, Brych and Clattenburg are more probable than the others in my view. Marciniak is however quite inexperienced despite his good performances in the past and it would be very risky and unclever to appoint him for the opener (I guess he will get another match for the start to see how he does). Brych and Clattenburg both have the necessary experience. While Brych's style and shape would definitely suit the game, Clattenburg has the advantage of an excellent Champions League final form. He would be accepted and probably ensure a calm evening from the refereeing perspective.
A third option that should not be forgotten is Cüneyt Çakır - maybe he is not representing the average style to be expected at the tournament that much. But he has definitely an excellent run apart from the penalty in Munich. And he has the X factor that is needed in such games, mostly finding a balance between not forgetting the Laws of the Game but at the same time managing the game and refereeing for the benefit of the big picture. Also Jonas Eriksson is - as always - a name for such a game, but I think that after his controversial Europa League final he should get a match which is not in the spotlights that much. And he is definitely having an extreme approach and style which would threaten the purpose of creating predictability. I think UEFA will either choose Clattenburg or Çakır - if I had to choose, I would say Mark Clattenburg by 51:49.
We asked you: Click for the results based on 507 voters (not representative).
The other matches:
Albania - Switzerland. This match could become combatted, specially from the Albanian side. It might be that we'll see a lot of cards in this game. A referee UEFA has often appointed for such constellations in the past is Viktor Kassai from Hungary. I think also Skomina would suit, but as these are predictions and no personal preferences, I expect Kassai.
Wales - Slovakia. England and Russia are both clear favourites. Wales and Slovakia will probably fight for the third place in the group, so that the match has some importance. Actually, it would be a good opportunity to test Clément Turpin. Alternatives would be Svein Oddvar Moen or Ovidiu Alin Hațegan. I guess UEFA will try to test the Frenchman as fast as possible to figure out what to do with him.
England - Russia. In my opinion this game cries out for Carlos Velasco Carballo.
Turkey - Croatia. Felix Brych once handled this match quite well in the EURO 2012 Play-Offs. He is possible for this game and would suit. I however expect someone else: Nicola Rizzoli from Italy.
Poland - Northern Ireland. An interesting game and difficult to predict. I would either choose Ovidiu Alin Hațegan or Milorad Mažić. I think we'll see the youngster from Romania: Ovidiu Hațegan.
Germany - Ukraine. As said, Jonas Eriksson needs rather moderate or big matches, but should get the chance to manage a smooth debut in this tournament. I could imagine that Germany - Ukraine is neither too low-profile, nor a real top game. Therefore it could suit.
Spain - Czech Republic. A difficult game with the potential of a surprising (?) Czech win. I expect Felix Brych here.
Ireland - Sweden. This match perfectly suits to Damir Skomina, who already officiated it in the World Cup Play-Offs back in 2013. For the purpose of variery: Björn Kuipers.
Belgium - Italy. This match is maybe the top clash of the first matchday. The one who does not get the opener game could get this tie. So: either Çakır or Clattenburg. Rather Cüneyt Çakır.
Austria - Hungary. Difficult - this match is not really that important. Austria are the clear favourites and I could imagine that Scotland's William Collum gets it.
Portugal - Iceland. Iceland should not be underestimated - a solid, medium-profile referee is needed. Pavel Královec for example.
Summary of my Predictions:
FRA-ROU: Clattenburg (or Çakır), 4OF: Atkinson
ALB-SUI: Kassai, 4OF: Collum
WAL-SVK: Turpin, 4OF: Kulbakov
ENG-RUS: Velasco, 4OF: Sidiropoulos
TUR-CRO: Rizzoli, 4OF: Moen
POL-NIR: Hațegan, 4OF: Skomina
GER-UKR: Eriksson, 4OF: Mažić
ESP-CZE: Brych, 4OF: Kulbakov
IRL-SWE: Kuipers, 4OF: Sidiropoulos
BEL-ITA: Çakır (or Clattenburg), 4OF: Karasev
AUT-HUN: Collum, 4OF: Clattenburg
POR-ISL: Královec, 4OF: Turpin
Let me know your predictions!