Kailey Willis could have not sent a clearer message when emphasising that this team represented the future of Maltese football.
“We are the future,” the Italy-based forward told the Times of Malta after Malta’s unprecedented feat of winning promotion to League B in the UEFA Women’s Nations League.
The 20-year-old forward paved the way for Malta’s come-from-behind win over Latvia after scoring the equaliser with a towering header to the delight of a record crowd that thronged the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday.
In finding the net against Latvia, Willis was marking her third international goal in just eight appearances for the women’s national team.
In fact, Willis has grabbed all her goals for the national team under coach Manuela Tesse. She had opened her account with a brace in a home friendly against Luxembourg back in February.
The women’s senior national team have now joined the U-19 selection in climbing a division in the women’s Nations League.
In 2022, then led by coach Frank Schembri, the U-19 women’s selection made it to League A. They had finished as the best runner-up team in League B when featuring in a group that also included Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Faroe Islands.
Willis, now on the books of Italian side Meran Women, was part of that U-19 side as the women’s game continues to thrive and on Tuesday the young forward relived the same emotions at senior level.
Last Friday, Willis was deployed in the dying stages of the goalless draw against Moldova, in an attempt to snatch a late victory.
This time around, coach Tesse opted to start with Willis upfront as she felt that her physical structure and technical features suit better against a robust Latvia defensive line.
Willis came close twice to open the score in the first half before making the most from a Rachel Cuschieri’s assist after the change of ends.
“I know that upfront there is Ylenia Carabott who is a very good and experienced player,” Willis said.
“I am still growing, and I just need to capitalise on the moments that I am provided to keep fighting for my place.”
This year, in the Italian Serie C, Willis has been one of the key players at Meran and has already found the net on four occasions in nine appearances.
Previously, she was also on the books of Hellas Verona (17 goals in 27 games both at youth and senior level) and Chievo Verona (4 goals in 28 matches).
Being one of the League B teams is an amazing feat for Malta and Willis heaped praise on both players and staff to turn this dream into a reality.
“It is an unbelievable achievement for us,” the former Hellas Verona and Chievo Verona player said.
“From the players to the staff, everyone has been working hard enough to live such a moment.”
Come March, Malta will discover the names of the countries with whom they will rub shoulders in their debut League B campaign of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualifiers.
Another intriguing journey for a movement that continues to grow and inspire more female players.
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