2 brothers, 2 teams, 2 contrasting experiences at Qatar 2022

2 brothers, 2 teams, 2 contrasting experiences at Qatar 2022
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Spain's forward Nico Williams during an interview with AFP at Qatar University in Doha on Nov. 21, 2022, ahead of the opening of the World Cup football tournament. (File/AFP)
2 brothers, 2 teams, 2 contrasting experiences at Qatar 2022
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Ghana's Inaki Williams in action in action during Thursday's Group H match Portugal vs. Ghana in Doha. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 November 2022

2 brothers, 2 teams, 2 contrasting experiences at Qatar 2022

2 brothers, 2 teams, 2 contrasting experiences at Qatar 2022
  • Williams brothers Iñaki and Nico marked both sides of their family’s heritage  at this World Cup in Qatar by playing for two different countries

DOHA: Joy for the Williams family of Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup. Then despair for the same Williams family, who are also of Ghana, on Thursday.

Williams brothers Iñaki and Nico have managed to mark both sides of their family’s heritage in a remarkable way at this World Cup in Qatar by playing for two different countries. They were both born in Spain but their parents are from Ghana.

Nico was part of the young Spain team that beat Costa Rica 7-0 on Wednesday in the tournament’s most compelling performance so far. He came on as a second-half substitute to make his World Cup debut in Spain’s record win at the tournament.

A day later, big brother Iñaki played his first World Cup game for Ghana, a 3-2 loss to Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.

That meant a complicated 24 hours in the family home back in Spain with celebrations for 20-year-old Nico no doubt swiftly followed by commiserations for 28-year-old Iñaki. The same for the two brothers, who Ghana coach Otto Addo said both feel as Spanish as they do Ghanaian.

“I know that they both have a good strong relationship with their mother and their fatherland,” was how Addo put it.

Because of his love for his parents’ country, Iñaki’s integration into the Ghana team has been very easy, Addo added, even if he was born in Bilbao and raised in the Basque region.

Iñaki, a forward just like Nico, played the whole game for Ghana against Portugal and stood in the center circle at Stadium 974 in Doha at the end with his hands on his head and looking bitterly disappointed with the loss.

“Maybe for some it’s difficult to understand but I think it’s really possible to have two countries in your heart,” Addo said of Iñaki. “And surely he has Ghana in his heart from day one. But also Spain.”

The story behind the situation involves their parents’ decision to leave Ghana nearly 30 years ago to find a better life in Europe.

Never could Felix and Maria Williams have thought they would end up with two sons playing at the World Cup when they trekked barefoot through parts of a desert and climbed a fence to get into Spain in the early 1990s. Maria was pregnant with Iñaki at the time.

They settled in Bilbao and both boys grew up to be soccer players. They still play club soccer together for hometown team Athletic Bilbao.

The brothers’ careers have always been connected, even after Iñaki decided this year to switch allegiance to Ghana and go back to his roots. Them playing for two different countries in the space of 24 hours was not the first time it has happened.

Iñaki made his debut for Ghana on Sept. 23 this year against Brazil. Nico made his first appearance for Spain against Switzerland a day later.


Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss
Updated 58 min 45 sec ago

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss
  • “A lot of possession and not enough shots,” the sports daily AS said on its front page
  • “Spain clearly dominates but can’t get the goal to advance,” the newspaper Sport said

DOHA: The Morocco players fell back on defense and patiently watched as Spain kept passing the ball around midfield during their round of 16 match at the World Cup.
Side to side, from one Spanish player to another. Pass after pass, Spain tried to find an opening through the Moroccan defense, but the Moroccans stayed committed, unwavering, patiently waiting with 11 men behind the ball in front of their goal.
The traditional “tiki-taka” ball-possession style allowed Spain to keep the ball during most of the match Tuesday, but not to get the goals they needed to keep their World Cup campaign alive, and the team lost 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw in regulation and extra time to end their World Cup campaign.
It was the third time Spain failed to make it past the last 16 at the World Cup after winning their lone title in 2010, when Xavi and Andrés Iniesta were the leaders of the ball-possession style that amazed the soccer world.
Spain’s “tiki-taka” clearly hasn’t produced the results it once did, not on the international level or the club level with Barcelona, which was where it all started. Barcelona haven’t won a Champions League since 2015, and were eliminated in the group stage of the top European club competition the last two seasons after Lionel Messi left and signed with Paris Saint-Germain.
The recent failures have led to some to questions about whether it’s time for a philosophical overhaul of Spanish soccer, or if it’s just a matter of adjusting the style to modern days or finding the right players to make it work again.
It’s been a while since Spain lost Xavi and Iniesta, key elements that made the “tiki-taka” thrive, and they haven’t had a top-notch striker since Fernando Torres and David Villa, who were key to help transform ball possession into goals when La Roja won their back-to-back European Championships and the World Cup more than a decade ago. This year, Spain had only one true striker in their squad, Álvaro Morata, who is far from being considered a finisher like Torres and Villa.
It looked like Spain were going to make the “tiki-taka” work again in Qatar after youngsters Pedri and Gavi led the team to a resounding 7-0 opening win over Costa Rica, when La Roja completed a record 1,003 passes for a 90-minute game and finished with 75 percent of ball possession with 17 attempts against zero by Costa Rica.
But La Roja couldn’t win again after that, and they scored only two more goals in their next three matches. The team left the tournament with the most passes completed, with an average of 847 per game.
It didn’t take long for the criticism to start pouring in back home.
“A lot of possession and not enough shots,” the sports daily AS said on its front page.
“Spain clearly dominates but can’t get the goal to advance,” the newspaper Sport said.
Opponents have clearly found ways to keep the “tiki-taka” from working.
“We knew we were not going to have a lot of possession and we were not afraid of that,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said after his team’s win over Spain. “I looked at the last 20 games and Spain generally speaking had 70 percent of possession in those games. So I accepted that.”
Spain had 68 percent of possession and completed 967 passes Tuesday, but made only one attempt on target, two fewer than Morocco with their strategy that relied solely on counterattacks.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Regragui said. “We would have to be extremely well organized. The defense and our midfielders and attackers worked very hard to make sure that they didn’t have those angles for the passes.”
The strategy worked to perfection.
One of the last times Spain tried to move away from the “tiki-taka” was with coach Julen Lopetegui before the 2018 World Cup. Spain still tried to control possession, but they were more direct when attacking. The team went to Russia with an impressive unbeaten streak, but Lopetegui was fired just days before the team’s debut after accepting a job with Real Madrid without telling Spanish soccer federation officials. Spain were eliminated in a penalty shootout against host Russia in the round of 16.
Since 2010, Spain have won only three of their last 11 World Cup matches, and the elimination in Qatar on Tuesday led the federation to replace coach Luis Enrique with Luis de la Fuente, Spain’s under-21 coach.
Luis Enrique had said his players executed his “idea of football to perfection” despite the elimination, and with De la Fuente in charge, an overhaul to Spanish soccer wasn’t expected.
More “tiki-taka” is likely coming for La Roja.


Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup

Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup
Updated 08 December 2022

Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup

Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup
  • A future without the country’s greatest ever player could be a daunting prospect to the up-and-coming generation of Portugal internationals

DOHA: To Bruno Fernandes, World Cup teammate Cristiano Ronaldo is the most famous athlete in sports.
Joao Felix has described Ronaldo as “irreplaceable.”
Gonçalo Ramos, Portugal’s new 21-year-old star, has never known his national team without Ronaldo involved in it.
A future without the country’s greatest ever player could be a daunting prospect to the up-and-coming generation of Portugal internationals.
They aren’t showing it at the World Cup.
In fact, they showed they might even be liberated by stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow given the way Portugal demolished Switzerland 6-1 in the round of 16 on Tuesday.
Turns out there is life after the five-time world player of the year, even if that is hard for some to imagine.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos wanted a team “playing with a lot of fluidity” against Switzerland and that invariably meant leaving the 37-year-old Ronaldo — the player with more goals (118) than anyone in men’s international football — on the bench. It was a big call and it couldn’t have gone better, at least against Switzerland.
It’s a call that Erik ten Hag has made at Manchester United this season, preferring to have more mobile players in his front four than an undoubted goal machine whose movement is no longer what it was.
It took until the round of 16 for Santos to make that move at the World Cup, with his convictions strengthened by his obvious unhappiness at Ronaldo’s attitude after being substituted in the group game against South Korea.
The Portuguese football federation insisted Thursday that Ronaldo was dedicated to the team, saying he had built up a “unique track record every day” of service for his country and had an “unquestionable degree of commitment to the national team.”
That won’t necessarily guarantee him starts in the future.
Against Switzerland, Ramos — who came in for Ronaldo, to the shock of many, and scored a hat trick on his debut — stretched the opposition defense more than Ronaldo typically does. It gave Felix, playing just behind Ramos, more space to work in and he produced one of his best performances for Portugal.
It couldn’t be further from the Felix that seems so constrained under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, working as hard on his defensive discipline and keeping team shape as what he offers in attack.
Santos went through the attributes of the three strikers in his squad — Ronaldo, Ramos and Andre Silva — and said that while Ronaldo is a player “who is more fixed and plays in a more determined area,” Ramos is “more dynamic.”
So dropping Ronaldo requires a shift in game plan. It might have worked against Switzerland, but will it work against Morocco?
Looking to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, Morocco is expected to defend deep against Portugal and play on the counterattack. Santos has to make the call whether this is more of a game for Ronaldo — one of football’s greatest ever players — or to stick with the player who just had the game of his life.
It’s not a bad situation to be in, and leaves Portugal as a very dangerous proposition either way.


Spain sack Luis Enrique after World Cup flop, name Luis de la Fuente new coach

Spain sack Luis Enrique after World Cup flop, name Luis de la Fuente new coach
Spain's coach Luis Enrique (R) hugs assistant coach Aitor Unzue upon their arrival with some members of Spain team. AFP
Updated 08 December 2022

Spain sack Luis Enrique after World Cup flop, name Luis de la Fuente new coach

Spain sack Luis Enrique after World Cup flop, name Luis de la Fuente new coach
  • The federation said they wanted to thank Luis Enrique and his staff for their work, but had decided to start a “new project”

DOHA: Spain sacked coach Luis Enrique on Thursday after the 2010 champions were dumped out of the World Cup by Morocco at the last-16 stage earlier this week. Luis de la Fuente was named as Spain's new coach, shortly after the former was sacked on the same day.
“Both the president, Luis Rubiales, and the sporting director, Jose Francisco Molina, have told the coach their decision,” the Spanish FA said in a statement.
The federation said they wanted to thank Luis Enrique and his staff for their work, but had decided to start a “new project.”
“The sporting direction of the RFEF has given the president a report, in which it was determined that a new project should start for the national team, with the objective of continuing the growth achieved in the last few years thanks to Luis Enrique and his colleagues,” added the RFEF.
Spain hammered Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening game in Qatar but suffered a shock defeat by Japan that resulted in a second-place finish in Group E.
Spain were strong favorites to beat Morocco in the first knockout round but lost 3-0 on penalties after the game finished 0-0 following extra-time.
“We dominated the game but we lacked a goal,” lamented Luis Enrique after the game.
“We could have been more effective in the final third, but I am more than satisfied with what my players did.
“They represented perfectly what my idea of football is.”
Spain last lifted a major trophy a decade ago at Euro 2012, while they have not won a single knockout game at the World Cup since triumphing in South Africa in 2010.
Luis Enrique took over in 2018 after Spain’s disappointing Russia World Cup showing, and led La Roja to the semifinals of Euro 2020, where they were also beaten on penalties by Italy.


Matteo Berrettini targets return to world top 10 with Diriyah Tennis Cup campaign

Matteo Berrettini targets return to world top 10 with Diriyah Tennis Cup campaign
Updated 08 December 2022

Matteo Berrettini targets return to world top 10 with Diriyah Tennis Cup campaign

Matteo Berrettini targets return to world top 10 with Diriyah Tennis Cup campaign
  • ‘I’m ready to compete again,’ Italian star says, looking back on injury-plagued year

After a stop-start 2022 campaign that saw Matteo Berrettini miss two of the four tennis grand slams due to injuries and illness, the Italian is hoping he enjoys a healthier 2023 as he targets a return to the world’s top 10.

Berrettini, who is in Saudi Arabia this week competing in the Diriyah Tennis Cup, was ranked a career-high No.6 early this season after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.

A right-hand injury that required surgery ruled him out of the entire clay season before he made an impressive return to the tour, winning back-to-back grass-court titles in Stuttgart and London. Bad luck struck again, however, as he tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of Wimbledon and the 26-year-old sat out the action, knowing he was considered one of the favorites for the title.

Last month, a foot problem he picked up in Naples stopped him from playing singles for Italy in the Davis Cup finals, where he took part in just one doubles match before wrapping up his season.

“Mentally, it was really tough,” Berrettini told Arab News, reflecting on his 2022 campaign.

“I was at my best ranking, I was playing good, I had a good run in Australia, clay season was coming and grass season was coming, which are the ones I love the most, and then that injury happened so it was tough to deal with that.

“At the same time I tried to take that time in order to come back stronger, with more energy. Because, obviously, the tour can be really tiring in some ways, so I was like, OK, I have to stop and get surgery, but I’m going to try to use this time to get better, to maybe do something I wouldn’t able to do when I’m on tour. Just invest some time to do stuff I never had the time to do and I helped myself like that.

“It worked out because when I came back I was feeling ready, I was feeling good. Obviously after I got COVID in Wimbledon everything went a little bit downhill, but it’s ups and downs and, hopefully, next year there are going to be more ups.”

Berrettini admits it is tough getting back to being fully focused on tennis, and not spending too much time worrying about his body and his physical problems.

He said that he is feeling better and is “ready to compete” with an eye on having another strong run in Australia next month.

The Rome native explains how he tries to bring an intensity to his practice sessions to mimic match conditions in order to regain that match toughness he was lacking while dealing with injuries. He believes a healthier body can help relieve some of the pressure he has been feeling at tournaments lately.

“In general, I would like to be healthier. I played I don’t know how many tournaments this year and I felt like each tournament I played I had to perform and get points, otherwise my ranking would drop even more and having that kind of pressure is not easy to deal with,” said Berrettini.  

“So being healthy would mean also to be less stressed about that, so that’s one of the goals for sure (in 2023). Obviously I’d like to come back to the top 10, because I think the tennis is there, I just have to be more consistent.”

A former Wimbledon finalist with a devastating serve and forehand combination, Berrettini has shown great consistency at the grand slams over the last few years. He has made at least the quarterfinals in each of his last five major appearances, losing to Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in four of them.

The men’s game is going through a generational change right now and players such as Berrettini are no longer focused only on chasing Djokovic and Nadal at the biggest events. The current world No.1 is Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and Berrettini senses a shift in mentality on tour now that a 19-year-old is at the helm.

“It feels unbelievable if you think about it, what he achieved in such a short time,” Berrettini said of Alcaraz.

“I remember playing him in Australia at the beginning of the year and I played him Rio as well, and I felt he is a great player but what he did is still impressive for his age. The physicality he already has and everything, also mentally it’s not easy to deal with everything that he dealt with, so it’s impressive.

“At the same time we know that tennis it’s really tough, but it’s not impossible, we all know we can play our best tennis, I have to say it was a weird year with Novak not playing most of the slams, it was kind of a little weird. But Carlos deserves the world No.1 and I think everybody now is like, OK, he did it, yeah maybe it changed (our mentality) a little bit, it’s like maybe we can do it as well.

“Before world No.1 was Novak and Rafa, Daniil (Medvedev) already did it, which was impressive, but now, even Casper (Ruud) had the chance to be No.1 after the US Open.”

Away from the court, Berrettini has had an eventful year, full of new experiences. He became one of the faces of the fashion label Boss, alongside TikTok star Khaby Lame and supermodel Hailey Bieber. He attended the Cannes Film Festival and has been followed by cameras all year as one of the protagonists of the Netflix tennis docu-series that will be released early next season.

“It’s been fun,” he said of being part of the Netflix project.

“At the beginning I was like, what is this? Obviously when you win it’s always easy to have people around you and stuff but then when you lose, it’s tougher, you want to be by yourself, you don’t want to be bothered. But I was like, if I’m going to do this, I want to do it the right way. And that’s what I tried to do. I think it’s going to be really interesting to show people behind-the-scenes the stuff you don’t usually see.”

Berrettini lost his Diriyah Tennis Cup opener on Thursday to Stan Wawrinka. The Italian kicks off his 2023 campaign by representing Italy in the United Cup mixed team event in Brisbane, Australia, starting Dec. 29.


England’s Sterling to return to Qatar

England’s Sterling to return to Qatar
England's Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring past Iran's goalkeeper during Qatar World Cup Group B match. AFP
Updated 08 December 2022

England’s Sterling to return to Qatar

England’s Sterling to return to Qatar
  • The Chelsea forward temporarily left to attend to a family matter but is now expected to rejoin the squad

DOHA: England forward Raheem Sterling is to return to the World Cup in Qatar on Friday after spending time in England following a robbery at his home, England’s Football Association said on Thursday.
“Raheem Sterling will return to England’s World Cup base in Qatar. The Chelsea forward temporarily left to attend to a family matter but is now expected to rejoin the squad in Al Wakrah on Friday ahead of the quarter-final with France,” the FA said in a statement.
Sterling did not feature in England’s squad for the 3-0 win against Senegal with Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka playing either side of striker Harry Kane.
It would be a surprise should Sterling be picked to start against France although his return does increase manager Gareth Southgate’s options from the bench.
British media reports had said that Sterling’s home was broken into by armed intruders while his family were in the property on Saturday night.
However, Surrey Police later said that no-one was at home at the time of the burglary and no threats of violence were involved.
The police said the house’s occupants were away on an ‘international trip’ and discovered on their return that a number of items of jewelry, including watches, had been stolen.
Southgate had been supportive of Sterling’s decision to leave the camp and return to England.
“At the moment clearly the priority is for him to be with his family. We’re going to support that and leave him to have as much time as he needs,” he had said.
Sterling has been a key player for England during Southgate’s six years in charge.
The 28-year-old has 20 goals in 81 caps for his country, including one at the 2022 World Cup in a 6-2 victory over Iran.