Two brothers, two teams, one story: Nico and Inaki Williams go their separate ways for the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Inaki Williams

When they were just married, mother Maria and father Felix Williams knew that they wanted a better life for their future children. This was the main reason why they set up for a long and arduous journey from their native Ghana to Spain.

It meant crossing the Sahara desert barefoot, spending the 4.000-kilometer journey in the back of a crowding truck, and enduring temperatures which varied from 40 to 50 degrees Celsius.

‘OK. The moment’s come for me to tell you. Sit down, I think you’re ready to hear the story of papa and me now. When she told me I was left cold. Hearing that leaves a deep impression. Wow. It’s like something in a film and my parents lived it,” said Williams in an interview for “The Guardian”.

Pregnant with Inaki, Maria climbed the Melilla border fence, built especially by Spain in the North African city to deter migrants, and crossed into her new home, where Inaki and Nico were going to thrive.

Soon, they settled in Pamplona, Biscay, as the two kids started playing football at a powerhouse of the region, Athletic Bilbao, whose policy is to nurture talent or transfer players only born or who have started playing football in the region.

But their parents’ story left a huge mark and made a big impression on Inaki and Nico. This is why they decided to give everything in every training session, try to become even better and better and ensure that their family has nothing missing.

“I didn’t know they had crossed the desert by foot. I knew my dad had problems with the soles of his feet but not that it was because he had walked barefooted across the Sahara sand at 40, 50 degrees.”

“They did part in a truck, one of those with the open back, 40 people packed in, then walked days. People fell, left along the way, people they buried. It’s dangerous: there are thieves waiting, rapes, and suffering. Some are tricked into it. Traffickers get paid and then halfway say: ‘The journey ends here.’ Chuck you out, leave you with nothing: no water, no food. Kids, old people, women. People go not knowing what’s ahead if they’ll make it,” added Williams.

But when both Nico and Inaki were called up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, everything was worth it. They worked their entire lives to be here and will be part of the biggest show in football.

The only caveat? Well, Inaki will represent his parents’ country, Ghana, while Nico will feature for Spain, the country he was born and thrived in. It is not an unprecedented move, with two other brothers, Jerome and Kevin Prince Boateng facing each other at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when the former was playing for Germany and the latter for Ghana.

Their form this season has been nothing short of special as Inaki scored five goals and assisted another, while Nico scored three goals and dished four assists in the 14 games he played in La Liga.

The script could not have been better for the Williams brothers in the match against Almeria, as Nico set up Inaki to score the first goal before Inaki repaid the favour, passing the ball to his brother to score the third, in a 4:0 win for Bilbao.

“I feel proud of both of them. It is so difficult to make it as a footballer. Out of 100 people, only five make it. So imagine having two brothers together on the same team,” said Maria Williams for Marca.

But how did exactly Inaki and Nico Williams end up playing for different sides? Inaki, the older brother, has been a mainstay in Bilbao’s team since making his debut in 2016. He has 247 consecutive matches played in La Liga, a record for the Spanish competition, and scored 80 goals in 354 matches for his club team.

Playing for Spain at Under-21 level, Williams was set to be a shoe-in for the senior side. But he was overlooked for the “Furia Roja” in the next years, as frustrations mounted.

Initially, the 28-year-old striker rebuffed Ghana’s approach, but seeing his peak years passing by, he eventually accepted the challenge and made is debut in September, when he featured in friendly matches against Brazil and Nicaragua.

“I think this is the best moment to make that decision. I don’t think I will regret it because these trains [opportunities] only come by once. I wasn’t going to have this opportunity again and I think I made the right choices. I will enjoy the moment, my roots and repay the chance Ghana has given me.I think I will enjoy it on the sporting side and personally,” said Williams.

Nico has also made his debut for Spain in the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Switzerland and Portugal, after also being touted as a potential player for Ghana at Qatar 2022.

But he decided to play for Spain, as two brothers will be featuring at the FIFA World Cup on different sides for the second time.

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