By Dineo Matomela

When it comes to soccer, Deidre Mitchell is most definitely on the ball.

Mitchell, aged 28, of Port Elizabeth, this week became South Africa's first-ever internationally recognised woman referee.

She was accepted onto the panel of referees of Fifa, the sport's world controlling body.

Two other women, Batsi Manca of Gauteng and Mmatakiso Titi of the Free State, are on the Fifa panel as assistant referees.

Mitchell, a referee in the local Vodacom League, is the pride of Sout African Football Association (Safa) officials who have worked alongside her in order to strengthen women's football.

Stan Swart, a member of Safa's technical committee, said: "We as the Safa technical committee are extremely proud of Deidre.

"She has demonstrated that hard work, determination, commitment and perseverance can lead to great achievement."

Mitchell's dream of becoming a world-class referee began in April 2003, when 40 woman referees attended a Safa training course in Johannesburg.

She was identified as a promising referee and completed a Fifa higher-grade referee examination.

"This means a lot to me, because there were times when I wanted to give up. God helped me to persevere," said an exhilarated Mitchell.

She started playing soccer in 1994, when she completed high school, and played for various Port Elizabeth clubs before becoming a full-time referee in 1997.

"It is tough because, as a woman, male soccer players always try to intimidate one," she said.