England v Slovakia referee Halil Umut Meler punched in the face by football chief in shocking attack

England can make it through to the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 by beating Slovakia in Gelsenkirchen tonight.

Gareth Southgate's side have been underwhelming at the tournament so far, with a narrow opening-round win over Serbia followed by dismal draws against Denmark and Slovenia. However, they still managed to top their group and will take on the Slovaks, who finished third in their group, for a place in the final eight.

With so much at stake, it is set to be a feisty encounter and Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler is the man charged with keeping a lid on things. Here's what you need to know about tonight's man in the middle.

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Who is Halil Umut Meler?

Born in Izmir in 1986, Meler officiated his first match in a top-flight league in 2015, taking charge of Instanbul Basaksehir and Akhisar Belediyespor's clash in the Super Lig.

He has been a FIFA-listed referee since 2017 and a member of the UEFA Elite since 2022. Meler has become a familiar face for watchers of European club competition, first appearing in the Europa League in 2017 before officiating his first Champions League match in 2020 as Manchester City took on Marseille.

More recently, he refereed the first leg of West Ham's Europa Conference League semi-final with AZ Alkmaar and was the man in the middle for Liverpool's defeat to Atalanta in the same stage of the competition earlier this year.

In April, he was selected to represent Turkey at Euro 2024.

Shocking on-field attack

Meler hit the headlines in December after officiating the 1-1 draw between MKE Ankaragucu and Cykur Rizespor in the Super Lig, Turkey's top division.

It was a bad-tempered match which saw the referee hand out two red cards and this escalated into disgraceful scenes at the full-time whistle after Rizespor scored a last gasp equaliser.

Moments after the whistle sounded, Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca stormed into the pitch and confronted Meler before sucker-punching him in the face and knocking him to the ground. As the official lay defenceless on the ground, Koca and those around him repeatedly kicked him.

Meler was escorted to safety by riot police and taken to hospital, where it was found he had suffered a fractured eye socket and was put in a neck brace. His attacker initially claimed the referee had "thrown himself to the ground" but, having been arrested, later apologised and resigned from his role as club president, while he was also given a permanent ban from Turkish football.

The incident caused the Turkish FA to suspend all football across all leagues in the country for a week, while it was also condemned by President Erdogan and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who described it as totally unacceptable. Ankaragucu were then ordered to play five home matches behind closed doors and were hit with a fine equivalent to £50,000.

Meler later told Turkish news outlets: “No, I did not forgive [Koca], I will not forgive. The person who did this punched me, I collapsed and fell to the ground. But the actual kicking while I was on the ground will be something I will never forget for the rest of my life.

“That’s why, in conscience, I will never forgive. I will not forgive in any way, I will never forgive those who did it or those who provoked it.”

Despite rumours that he would quit refereeing in light of the attack, Meler returned to action a month later as he took charge of Konyaspor's Super Lig clash with Istanbulspor, and was applauded during his warm-up.

England v Slovakia referees

  • Referee: Umut Meler (TUR)

  • Assistant Referees: Emre Eyisoy (TUR) and Kerem Ersoy (TUR)

  • Video Assistant Referee: Marco Fritz (GER)

  • Assistant VARs: Christian Dingert (GER) and Tomasz Kwiatkowski (POL)

  • Fourth official: Rade Obrenovic (SVN)