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'Zambian Janny Sikazwe could referee the World Cup final'

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The man who groomed 2018 World Cup-bound referee Janny Sikazwe believes the Zambian official has all the qualities to officiate the final in Moscow on July 15.

FIFA Referees Instructor Felix Tangawarima, who is also a member of the Confederation of African Football Referees Committee, says Sikazwe and his team of assistants, South African Zakhele Siwela and Jerson dos Santos from Angola, will not be overawed in the global decider.

They are in one of six sets of match officials from Africa that will be in attendance Russia, along with Mehdi Abid Charef (Algeria), Malang Diedhiou (Senegal), Bakary Gassama (Gambia), Gehad Grisha (Egypt) and Bamlak Tessema Weyesa (Ethiopia). However, Tangawarima feels Sikazwe's team is the best of the lot.

It was Zimbabwean Tangawarima, himself a former FIFA referee, who scouted a young Sikazwe, and has overseen the development of his career after he was given an unexpected break.

"Janny is a teacher by profession, so he is someone who is a leader already," Tangawarima tells KweséESPN. "He came into the limelight by accident. In 2008 we had the CAF Under-20 Championships in South Africa and one of the referees failed a fitness test.

"I knew Janny from my work in COSAFA, but the rest of the CAF people didn't know him. He came into the tournament and did very well. The rest is history; he has kept on developing and kept on working hard at his refereeing.

"I was talking to Janny before he left [for the World Cup] and I said to him, 'You have already done the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, and that is a stepping stone to another higher level final'.

"I told him I would not be surprised if he does the World Cup final because of his ability and his vast experience in CAF. Everybody in Africa would be hopeful that he can represent us in the latter stages of the tournament."

Tangawarima, who is hugely respected on the African continent, also played a role in bringing through Siwela and Dos Santos, through the regional Southern African COSAFA tournaments.

"The trio are products of our [COSAFA] Under-17 tournaments, all of them," Tangawarima said. "They started at that level, they graduated to the Under-20, our senior challenge in COSAFA. All of them have been to FIFA tournaments before.

"We are happy to have made a contribution in their development and I am happy to say that they are the best in Africa. They are the best we have."

Tangawarima believes the strengths of Sikazwe lies in his endurance and game awareness.

"He has great physical fitness; he is one of our fittest referees on the continent. He has an ability to move the way we want on the field of play.

"A referee should not just move in a random manner, positioning is very important. If the ball is at point A, then he should be at point B. If it is at point C, then he should make sure he is at point D.

"Janny has the ability to anticipate what could happen in the next phase of play. He can also talk to everybody in the right way."

Tangawarima also believes that Sikazwe will have no problem handling the pressure of a World Cup tournament, having officiated matches in difficult, and sometimes dangerous, conditions on the African continent.

"He has handled matches with more pressure than where he is going. The final of the African Nations Cup ... games between Algeria and Egypt, for example. Those are very difficult games to referee, in front of big crowds with difficult players, but he has managed them very well."

In the wake of the axing of Saudi Arabia referee Fahad Al Mirdasi from the World Cup panel after he admitted to match-fixing, Tangawarima says integrity is not an issue with the World Cup-bound trio.

Two of his other proteges, South African Victor Gomes and Zimbabwean Norman Matemera, recently turned down and reported bribes that had been offered to them in CAF club competitions.

"When I am working for FIFA as my full-time job, the first presentation I do to referees is about integrity. I tell them that they will be approached at some stage ... it is almost certain," Tangawarima says.

"But I am proud that a stand has been taken by the referees in my region [Southern Africa] that their integrity is unquestionable. Even after they were approached they went on to officiate to the best of their ability."

Sikazwe refereed the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup final between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers, and also the final of the 2017 African Nations Cup. He has also officiated in the finals of the both the African Champions League and Confederation Cup competitions.