Inaki Williams targets World Cup with Ghana

Inaki Williams targets World Cup with Ghana
Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby, left, vies for the ball with Athletic Bilbao's Inaki Williams during a Spanish Copa del Rey semifinal second leg soccer match between Valencia and Athletic Bilbao at Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Williams is enjoying yet another season as a starter for Athletic Bilbao. 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. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz, File)

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

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.