Brothers, teammates and, now, World Cup rivals.
Athletic Bilbao forwards Iñaki and Nico Williams are set to become the latest brothers to play for different countries in a World Cup.
Iñaki Williams was selected by Ghana on Monday, and his younger brother Nico Williams had been picked by Spain last week.
They will be repeating the feat of the Boateng brothers, who played for different nations in 2010 in South Africa and in 2014 in Brazil. Jerome Boateng was a central defender with Germany, while the older Kevin-Prince Boateng was an attacking midfielder with Ghana.
The Boatengs, who played against each other in both tournaments, were born to a Ghanaian father and were raised by separate mothers in Germany. The Williams brothers were born in Spain from Ghanaian parents who made the long journey to Europe looking for a better life.
To make it to Spain, they had to ride on the back of a crowded truck and walk barefoot through the Sahara desert, according to Iñaki Williams. His mother was already pregnant with him when the couple were detained while trying to enter Spain. They eventually received political asylum after taking advice from a charity worker who told them to say they had fled a civil war in Liberia.
The couple moved to the Basque Country region where both boys were born. It didn’t take long before Iñaki Williams, now 28, joined the youth academy of first-division club Athletic. Nico, now 20, eventually did the same.
“I always say that everything we do is for our parents, for everything that they did for us,” Iñaki Williams told the Spanish daily Marca. “It’s like being able to somehow give it back to them for their sacrifice, to let them see their kids fulfil their dreams.”
The brothers are among the few Black players to ever play for Athletic, the traditional Spanish club that signs local-born players or those who have come through the soccer academies of teams in the Basque region.
Iñaki Williams last season broke the Spanish league record for most consecutive appearances with 203. He hadn’t been called up for Spain since making an appearance in a friendly in 2016, so he decided to accept the call from Ghana as the African nation aggressively recruited players in the run-up to the World Cup in Qatar.
The speedy forward made his debut with Ghana in September against Nicaragua, and later played in a friendly against Brazil.
Nico Williams, who was raised in part by Iñaki because their parents often had to be out working, was a surprise late addition by Spain coach Luis Enrique, with his first call-up coming in September. He made his debut in a Nations League match against Switzerland, and in his second appearance coming off the bench, the youngster set up a goal by teammate Álvaro Morata to send Spain into the last four.
There are a few examples of siblings playing for the same national team in World Cups, including the three Palacios brothers with Honduras in the 2010 tournament.
Ghana had brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew — sons of three-time African player of the year Abedi Pele — play together at the 2014 World Cup, and they will be back to play in Qatar this month.
Ivory Coast played with Yaya and Kolo Toure in 2010 and in 2014, while Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos played for México in 2018, as did Eden and Thorgan Hazard for Belgium.
Twins Frank and Ronald de Boer were in the Dutch team in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, reaching the semifinals in 1998. Another pair of Dutch twins — Rene and Willy van de Kerkhof — made the final twice, in 1974 and 1978, both times coming up short of the title. Erwin and Ronald Koeman were not twins but in 1990 also played with the Netherlands.
The Danish national team had Brian and Michael Laudrup in the 1998 tournament, while England counted on Jack and Bobby Charlton in the 1966 and 1970 World Cups.
Spain and Ghana are in different groups in Qatar, so the Williams brothers won’t be able to play against each other at least until the quarterfinals.
“Hopefully it will happen,” Iñaki Williams said, “and that Ghana wins...”
“We’ll see about that," Nico Williams said. "But for sure we will be exchanging shirts after the match.”
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press