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The Williams crossed a desert barefoot to flee a war. Now, their sons are at the World Cup – one playing for Spain, other for Ghana

Despite being his World Cup debut and a 7-0 win, the Costa Rica match wasn’t the one Nico Williams was most looking forward to.

“Above all, I’d like to face Ghana,” the Spain winger told AFP pre-tournament.

There wouldn’t be another Spanish player who’d be as keen about that matchup at this World Cup. For, one of the players Nico will be up against will be none other than his brother Inaki: Nico wearing Spanish red, Inaki – eight years elder to him – in Ghana’s colours.

“It’s that sibling rivalry. We could never have imagined that we would reach this level, two brothers playing for the same club (Athletic Bilbao), each one in a national team and at a World Cup,” Nico said, giving a glimpse into the competitive relationship between the brothers before quickly pivoting to the emotional.

The Williams brothers were born to Ghanaian parents, who had fled to Spain as refugees of the Liberian civil war.

“Seeing the suffering of my parents, what they have gone through…..they have given everything for us, my brother and I, suffered a lot for us, above all for me, (Inaki) had it a bit worse than me. My brother is protective of me, he wants to help me, and because of that I am the person that I am today.”

The suffering Nico spoke of features some 4,900kms of Sahara desert landscape, in temperatures that touched up to 50 degree Celcius. That was the distance and those were the conditions Felix Williams and his partner María Arthuer travelled to flee from Ghana’s capital, Accra, to get to the autonomous Spanish city on the north-west coast of Africa, Melilla. Quite a bit of it on foot. Barefoot. Details which Inaki wasn’t aware of until he turned 20. Maria, who was pregnant with her elder son during the journey but did not know, decided to share it all with him only two years after he made his debut for La Liga club Athletic Bilbao.

“They did part (of the journey) in a truck, one of those with the open back, 40 people packed in, then walked days,” Inaki told the Guardian last year. “People fell, left along the way, people they buried. It’s dangerous, there are thieves waiting, rapes, 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.”

When Felix and Maria finally did make it across the border to Melilla, the civil guard detained them when they told they were migrants and had no papers. Only after the couple told the authorities they were from a country at war, as advised in jail by a Catholic aid organisation lawyer, that they were offered political asylum in Bilbao.

Inaki would later learn that all of it wouldn’t have happened had his mother known she was carrying him at the time. “If I knew, I would have stayed,” she’d tell him.

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