CHABAS, ARGENTINA - At age 7, Candelaria Cabrera goes after the soccer ball with determination. She drives toward her rivals without caring much about getting hurt and deftly manages the bumps on the dirt field.
She wears a loose white jersey from Huracan de Chabas, her hometown, located 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of the capital, Buenos Aires. Printed on the back and on her red shorts is a number 4. She uses white boots and shin guards. Her long, copper-colored hair tied in a ponytail distinguishes her from the rest of the players.
'Cande,'' as she is known by friends and family, is the only girl playing in a children's soccer league in the southern part of Santa Fe province, birthplace of stars including Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jorge Valdano. Former Argentine coaches Marcelo Bielsa, Gerardo Martino and Jorge Sampaoli were also born there.
But a regional regulation that prohibits mixed-gender teams in children's categories threatens to take her off the field - a ruling that has helped dramatize the inequality in opportunities for men and women in this soccer-crazed country.
'I had to sit down with her and tell her that there are some people who have to make rules in soccer and that these rules do not agree with what she wants,'' said Rosana Noriega, Candelaria's mother. 'And, well, we both cried, and she said: 'The people who make the laws are bad people.' ''