When Silvia Regina de Carvalho strode to the middle to officiate the Copa Sudamericana game between Brazilian sides Santos and Sao Caetano on 1 October, she became the first woman to referee a match in a South American competition.

The game itself ended in a 1-1 draw, a result that sent the home side through to the second round, and with so much at stake a firm hand was needed to keep a lid on things. The woman in black did not shirk her responsibility, handing out five yellow cards (including one to Robinho for dissent) and one red (to Marcelo Mattos for serious foul play).

No novice
At 39, Silvia is getting used to dealing with pressure. On 30 June 2003, she became the first woman to referee a Brazilian First Division game. Accompanied by assistants Aline Lambert and Ana Paula Oliveira, she took charge of a fiery Guaraní v Sao Paolo encounter, flourishing seven yellow cards and showing all her character by disallowing two goals for the home side. Her no-nonsense display earned praise from the media, with Lance! taking the lead, and since then she has become regular figure on the pitches of Brazil’s top league.

You could tell she was experienced by the way she kept her cool in that game,” remembers Sao Paolo’s goalscoring keeper Rogerio Ceni. “She did the right thing in ruling out those goals even if the home crowd saw it a bit differently. The match was very well refereed,” he concluded.

"That was a special game; I had to get accustomed to the pressure. But the main thing was they let us get on with our job and we were able to do our best,” reminisces Silvia. “Before the match I received lots of flowers and letters of support,” she confides before bursting into laughter.

Such has been the ease with which Silvia has gone about her groundbreaking business, her name has been mentioned in the highest political circles. Myryam Athie, leader of the Brazilian socialist party, made reference to her in a speech at Sao Paolo Town Hall to mark International Women’s Day: “I pay tribute to Silvia, who has shown us there are no limits for us women. She has swept away prejudice and overcome obstacles with talent, courage, tenacity and integrity.”

And what is the vital ingredient for a woman hoping to make it in a male-dominated world? Silvia has the answer: "Personality, because that is what has earned me the respect of the players.