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Edina Alves made history this week when she was named as a referee for next month’s Club World Cup, and she says her boundary-breaking feat is the product of two decades of preparation and hard work.

Alves, a 40-year-old Brazilian who has spent half of her life as an official, is set become the first woman to officiate a professional men’s soccer match organized by FIFA when she takes charge of a game at the tournament.

“Nothing fell from the sky for me,” she told AFP.

Alves called her selection for the tournament in Qatar, which runs from Feb. 1 to 11, “a dream come true.”

“I worked very hard, preparing myself for the day I would get a chance like this,” she says.

Alves comes from the small rural town of Goioere, in the southern state of Parana.

She put herself through night school for a degree in physical education by working at a garden shop, shoveling dirt into bags.

As a young woman, she played five-on-five futsal. But in a world where men and machismo still dominate the game, she struggled to find enough teammates to put together a full women’s soccer team, and never got the chance to play professionally.

“I played on my town’s futsal team, but there was no women’s professional football in those parts,” she says.

She got her start refereeing in 1999, when she was asked to fill in as an assistant referee at an amateur match.

It was love at first whistle.

“I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says with a grin.

By 2000, she was officiating professionally. Sometimes she served as a lineswoman, sometimes as the chief referee — a job she took on full-time in 2014.

In 2019, she became the first woman in 14 years to officiate a Brazilian men’s first division match. She has since added 12 more Brasilerao matches to her resume.

That same year, she refereed four matches at the Women’s World Cup in France, including the semifinal between the United States and England.

“FIFA treats referees based purely on their ability, not their gender. If you’re good, there’s room for you,” she said.

“We women are all preparing ourselves to rise to the challenge.”

Besides Alves, who was chosen as one of seven chief referees, FIFA also named fellow Neuza Back of Brazil and Mariana de Almeida of Argentina as two of the 12 assistant referees for the Club World Cup.

Women have refereed high-level soccer before, but never a professional men’s match organized by the sport’s top governing body.

Esther Staubli of Switzerland and Claudia Umpierrez of Uruguay have both officiated at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

In 2017, Bibiana Steinhaus of Germany became the first woman to officiate for a major men’s league in Europe when she debuted in the Bundesliga.

Last month, Stephanie Frappart of France became the first woman to referee a men’s UEFA Champions League match.

Now Alves is set to break that barrier for FIFA at the Club World Cup, where the field will include European champion Bayern Munich.

She does not plan to stop there.

Her next goal is to referee at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Who wouldn’t want to go to the Olympics?” she said.

“I do. And I’m working to get there.”

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