World Cup Watch: Iñaki Williams gets his chance with Ghana

Aug 22, 2022, 3:00 PM | Updated: Aug 23, 2022, 7:29 am
FILE - Roma's Georginio Wijnaldum plays during a friendly soccer match against Shakhtar Donetsk at ...

FILE - Roma's Georginio Wijnaldum plays during a friendly soccer match against Shakhtar Donetsk at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Dropped by the Netherlands because of his lack of game time at Paris Saint-Germain last season, Wijnaldum moved to Roma on loan partly in an attempt to revive his international career ahead of the World Cup. It hasn’t gone to plan. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

MADRID (AP) — Iñaki Williams is enjoying yet another season as a starter for Athletic Bilbao.

The only debate about his role in Basque Country is whether he should play more up front as a true striker or out on the wing.

Williams’ spot with Spain’s national team was never assured, though, so when the call to play for Ghana came, his decision wasn’t that hard to make.

Ahead of the World Cup, Ghana aggressively recruited players from abroad with connections to the African nation, and Williams fitted the bill.

The 28-year-old Williams was born in Spain to parents who are from Ghana. They moved to Spain several decades ago and, to be able to stay there, were advised by a charity worker to say they had fled a civil war in Liberia.

Now, with slim hopes of being called up again by Spain — he made one appearance in a friendly in 2016 — Williams became one of five players to accept a recent invitation to join Ghana’s national team and play at the World Cup.

“Even though I was born in Spain, my roots and my blood are African and Ghanese. This is the correct decision,” Williams said. “With my age, at my peak as an athlete, it is the right time to do this. The train will only come by once and I have to take it.”

His first appearance for Ghana could come in a friendly match against Brazil on Sept. 23, one of two World Cup warmup matches for the national team that month.

Williams said the support he received from his family and others in a recent trip back home helped him make the decision to switch to Ghana.

Williams is one of the few Black players to ever play for Athletic, the traditional Spanish club that has an internal code to only sign local-born players or those who have come through the soccer academies of teams in the Basque region.

Williams was a member of Spain’s youth squads and played in a friendly against Bosnia in 2016. He had not been called up recently by Luis Enrique and did not appear to be in the coach’s plan for the World Cup.

FIFA eligibility rules allow countries to recruit players from their global diaspora if the players meet the conditions related to their nationalities. Players are allowed to switch allegiance to a new national team if they never played a competitive game for the first country they were eligible to represent.

Ghana qualified for its fourth World Cup, and first since 2014, by eliminating Nigeria in a two-leg playoff in March. It is in Group H along with Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay.

WIJNALDUM INJURY

Dropped by the Netherlands because of his lack of game time at Paris Saint-Germain last season, Georginio Wijnaldum moved to Roma on loan partly in an attempt to revive his international career ahead of the World Cup.

It hasn’t gone to plan.

Wijnaldum broke the tibia in his right leg during practice on Sunday and might not be fit in time for the World Cup. He will undergo more tests this week.

In the 2020-21 season, Wijnaldum was a star of the Liverpool team and captained the Dutch in the absence of the injured Virgil van Dijk.

However, after being continually overlooked in his only season at PSG, Wijnaldum was dropped by Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal for his team’s four matches in June. He has made 86 international appearances, scoring 26 goals.

MARTINO’S PROBLEMS

Mexico coach Gerardo Martino was heavily criticized for his team´s attacking struggles in the last matches in World Cup qualification. Now, he’ll have to figure out how to improve the offense without one of his top players.

Sevilla forward Jesus “Tecatito” Corona broke his left fibula and ruptured ankle ligaments this week and will be out for four to five months, the Spanish club said. That is likely to rule him out of the World Cup, though Jaime Ordiales, the head of Mexico’s national teams, said Corona will be given until the last minute to have him on board for Qatar.

“It´s a serious injury,” Ordiales said, “but we have seen some impressive recoveries in the past, so we’re going to wait and hope for the best.”

Mexico, which finished second in the CONCACAF qualifiers behind Canada, scored just four goals in its last five qualifying matches. That was with Corona playing alongside Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano in Martino´s 4-3-3 formation.

Now Martino, who guided Paraguay to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2010, will have to try to awaken his offense without Corona and with Jimenez battling to rediscover his best form after fracturing his skull in 2020.

Jimenez came on as a substitute in Wolverhampton’s 1-0 loss to Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday, having missed the start of the season with a knee injury.

___

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World Cup Watch: Iñaki Williams gets his chance with Ghana