Rwandan referee Salma Mukansanga has revealed that officiating at a men's FIFA World Cup is something she had never dreamed of. The 34-year old will be making history as the first African woman to handle a world cup game when defending champions France take on Australia in Group D opener slated for Tuesday, November 22, at Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah. She is among three female referees selected for the first time for a men's FIFA World Cup alongside Japanese Yamashita Yoshimi and French Stephanie Frappart. It was very exciting, and this is a privilege for me. I had never dreamed of going to the men’s World Cup, Mukansanga told FIFA in an interview. The first time Mukansanga was nominated to go to a World Cup, was in France for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2023 will be her next assignment after the Qatar World Cup, Being appointed to the Men’s World Cup is something new, another opportunity we get. It means FIFA recognises that women are working hard, that we are providing quality refereeing and that we can deliver and reach higher, up to the top of the men’s game, she added. Mukansanga started refereeing at the age of 15. She reflected on her rough early years, while also sharing her incredible rise through the ranks, having been a listed international referee for FIFA since 2012. I have loved refereeing since childhood, I was inspired when I used to go to games in my hometown and I would look on the field watching the players but also the referees, she admitted. Seeing them in action was a big inspiration for me. So being a referee is really something I wanted to do, and it has been a motivation and driver within me. I just love it. In the early years of her refereeing career, Mukansanga used to officiate in the local leagues for men and second division women. “It was not professional, just local in our FA,” she recalls. Soon after that, she developed her refereeing abilities and started refereeing in a national league second division, women’s second division before she was promoted to officiating the men’s first division. On coping with reactions while officiating at men's domestic games a woman said: At the time, it was new because we didn’t see women referees. It is a field dominated by men. People did not accept what we were doing. They would reluctantly say “She’s doing fine”. An ambitious Mukansanga had a big dream to reach far, to be a professional referee although people did not accept her in the first place. However, day by day, the decisions that she took convinced many to start believing in her ability. I am ready Just hours to the World Cup kick-off, the Rusizi-born referee opened up about her preparations and readiness for the new challenge in Qatar. I’m just preparing for the World Cup tournament as a whole, not particular games. So, I have to prepare myself physically, mentally and theoretically to be ready. This is all based on the training we get which includes courses and seminars, she said. The expectation is always high, and so we need to give more. We have a special diet; we are almost like elite athletes ourselves! Everything is set out for every referee going to the World Cup. We have access to an online platform, the same platform for everyone and here we have the same training - everything is the same and everything is equal, she added. On her rough path to the pinnacle of football, the Rwandese holds no regrets embracing refereeing early, while promising to give it her best shot on the global stage. I’m not regretting anything. Here I am, and I deserve to be here. This is my time, and I have to seize this time to make it shine. I’m really glad to be going to the World Cup, because I worked hard for this, she reflected. I can stand on my decisions until the future because I want my future to be bright. And I want young girls to look up to me and follow in my footstep, because I am also here because I followed the advice of people who have been in this for quite some time. Now, it is the time and I keep focused on the World Cup. To aspiring girls and female referees from Africa, the only female among the six Qatar-bound African referees, said, Wherever you are coming from, don’t feel shy. Don’t feel depressed. Don’t let anyone ever say that you will never get there” You will, because of what you want to be. Today, I am here, and I never thought I would. It means you too can have that. Keep working hard, follow your dreams, focus on what you want to be, because the future is bright. Whatever you want to be, you will be, she added.