After putting in flawless shifts as the center official in two group stage matches, New Jersey native Mark Geiger was selected by FIFA to officiate Monday’s win-or-go-home match between France and Nigeria.
Geiger will become the first U.S. referee ever appointed to handle a World Cup match beyond the group stage when he and his two assistant referees, American Sean Hurd and Canadian Joe Fletcher, lead the European and African powerhouses onto the grass at the Estádio Nacional in Brasília. The U.S. team will battle heavily favored Belgium on Tuesday.
“It is a great honor to be selected to officiate in the tournament, but to be appointed as the center official for more than one game in the group phase, and then again for an important game in the round of 16 is a great testament to his hard work and dedication,” Neil Buethe, spokesman for the U.S. Soccer Federation, told The Post in an e-mail from Sao Paulo. “We couldn’t ask for a better representative.”
Geiger and his team already worked Chile’s 2-0 win over Spain and Colombia’s 3-0 victory against Greece. There were no controversial calls or officiating errors in either match.
American referees have worked at past World Cups, but have never been selected to officiate beyond the group phase. Before leaving for Brazil, Geiger, a former high school math teacher, refused to speculate on whether he might make U.S. referee history. But he said he knew one missed call or even minor error in a match could end his run.
After Sunday’s announcement about Geiger, former U.S. referee Esse Baharmast, who was famously vilified and later vindicated for making a correct penalty call in a game between Brazil and Norway during the 1998 World Cup, said Geiger and his team deserved their chance.
Baharmast, now the technical director for elite FIFA referees, said on Sunday that Geiger “has shown by example that hard work, dedication and perseverance pays dividends, and has earned this wonderful accolade along with his teammates. It is a reflection of their work.”
Back home in New Jersey, the man known by former math students as “Mr. Geiger” will be watched at World Cup viewing venues such as the Lighthouse Tavern in Waretown on Monday as he takes the field in front of 70,000 fans in Brazil’s capital. Millions more around the globe will watch on television or online.
“The chance of a lifetime has evolved into a pinnacle moment of his career, achievements, and life’s work,” said Joe Romayo, a college history professor and soccer fan who once took a calculus class from Geiger at Lacey Township High. Geiger retired from math teaching last year to focus on his referee career.
“He deserves it from his performance and its appropriate FIFA recognized it,” Romayo said.
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