‘Just started crying’ – Fontanilla’s incredible path to Matildas showdown

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Playing for the Philippines women’s national team has always been Kiara Fontanilla’s dream.

From the moment she first met the squad in Cerritos, Los Angeles as a shy 12-year-old the goal has always been the same.

On Monday, that dream became a reality, as she lined up for her international debut against Sam Kerr and the Matildas.

It’s been an incredible journey over the last 10 years for the goalkeeper, as she has had to tackle citizenship issues, trial processes and Covid just to compete.

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After spending years on the radar of the national team, Fontanilla was given the disappointing news that due to issues surrounding her father’s immigration she was not eligible to play for the national team.

Fast forward a few years and this was yet again the roadblock for her entering the Philippines system.

The young goalkeeper knew that she had to do something, this wasn’t how her dream was meant to end. The fact that she wasn’t just fighting for herself, but also her father, meant that success was the only option.

“My dad hasn’t been back in the Philippines for 40 years, so I also did it for him. I decided that I was going to get my dad back home,” she said.

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“I was in the consulate and I was so nervous. I’m like this needs to work out for me. I got my dual passport and visa on the same day, it was such a relief. Me and my dad were crying in the car, this was all that I had ever wanted to do.”

After entering the system for the first time and getting through a trial process that included over 100 hopefuls, she made it to the final training camp.

After years of never knowing if the day would finally come, Fontanilla was officially selected in her first Philippines squad.

Years of trials and roadblocks had made the moment even sweeter; a selection defined by hard work and determination.

This would all come to a screeching halt as she was diagnosed with Covid on January 8, just three days before the team was scheduled to leave for the tournament.

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“When I got my result back, I was super emotional. I was thinking that this was the end and that I wouldn’t be able to go,” she said.

“It was hard because I was really excited due to what I went through with my dad to get my citizenship and passport. When I went up and got retested Coach Alen told me don’t worry, we are going to get this figured out. We’re going to get you isolated and everything’s going to be fine.”

Sometimes coaches will say things to make players feel better, sometimes they are just trying to make them not panic.

This wasn’t one of those times. Despite needing to leave after the rest of the team, the 22-year-old would touch down in India just over a week later ready to help her country make their first Women’s World Cup.

Within a few days of arriving, Fontanilla was given the opportunity to assist first hand, as she was informed that she would be making her debut against Australia. This was a team that she had just recently watched achieve fourth place at the Olympics.

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It was all starting to come together for the 22-year-old.

“I had to kind of take a step back and be like okay, it’s just a game,” she said.

“Of course, it’s a game with Sam Kerr, Carpenter and Foord, but it’s just the game. So I went into the match thinking okay, I’m just going to do my best,”

Her best she certainly did, as she held out an Australian team for 51 minutes, making brilliant saves against the likes of Kerr and Manchester City defender Alanna Kennedy.

Whilst the final result read 4-0, the whole nation, as well as Fontanilla, was proud of her achievements.

“It was honestly probably the best debut I could have asked for. I really wanted to test my skills and honestly that was probably the best way to do it,” she said.

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So proud and overcome with joy from the journey she faced to reach that moment, once the full-time whistle was blown her emotions took control.

“When the game was over I literally couldn’t walk,” she said.

“I sat down on the field and I just started crying. People asked what was wrong and i’m just like I am so happy.”

Finally after 10 years of attempting to make her dreams come true, Kiara Fontanilla is officially a Philippines international football player and her father can visit his homeland again.

Whilst these goals may have been achieved, for the 22-year-old this only means that she now has new things to attain.

“My debut was the moment I’ve been waiting for,” she said.

“I’ve been playing for so long and honestly, this is just the start. This is only the beginning for me, and I just can’t wait to continue.”

Feature Image Credit: AFC

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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