Mexican second-division club Celaya were so impressed by Maribel Dominguez’s ability on the field they offered her a two-year deal, sending shockwaves through the country over what would have been a first in the sport.

But Celaya deferred to the international soccer authorities at FIFA on whether a woman can play in the league, and the governing body refused.

“There must be a clear separation between men’s and women’s football,” said a statement issued by Fifa’s executive committee in Zurich, Switzerland.

“This is laid down in league football and in international matches by the existence of gender-specific competitions, and the Laws of the Game and Fifa’s regulations do not provide for any exceptions.”

Celaya agreed to abide by Fifa’s ruling, and later said that signing the player was a publicity stunt, even though a special jersey had been designed for her and discussions begun over how to rearrange the club’s locker room.

Ms Dominguez has scored 45 goals in 46 games for the Mexican national women’s team and has played a season in the American Women’s United Soccer Association.

She had earlier said that if turned away from Celaya, she would lobby for a professional women’s league to be set up in Mexico, and that she would look for opportunities in Europe.

She was Mexico’s top scorer at the Athens Olympics and was ranked 25th in Fifa’s top women players in the world for 2004.

While small and light for the women’s team, she had vowed to begin a special training regime to get her match-fit to play with the men by January.

“The hard thing is going to be equalling the physical force of the men, but the technique, the desire, the willpower, those are things I already have,” she said earlier.