Two brief cameos with Spain in the space of four days have been enough for Nico Williams to earn his place in Luis Enrique’s World Cup squad. His lightning pace and decisive appearance on Tuesday against Portugal gives Luis Enrique a good selection headache when choosing La Roja’s World Cup squad.
Williams was the last change the Asturian tactician made in Braga, coming on for Ferran Torres in the 72nd minute. His presence gave Spain directness, speed, breakaway runs and bravery. So much so that his team-mates were constantly looking to release him to find a late winner. With his blistering pace, the 20-year-old Athletic Club forward is excellent in one-on-one situations.
On his debut against Switzerland in Zaragoza on Saturday, he came on on the right flank, where he has had so much joy for Athletic home and away this season. The younger brother of Iñaki Williams played on the left flank against Portugal as Luis Enrique rolled the dice for the last time. Villarreal’s Yéremy Pino played on the right.
Should Nico Williams go to the World Cup?
Iñaki has described his brother as a diamond in rough that needs to be polished. His older brother knows him best but he should be on the plane to Qatar because he offers Spain something different.
On the hour mark on Tuesday, Spain had had 70 per cent possession, but not a single shot on target. In the 60th minute, Luis Enrique brought on Gavi, Pedri and Yéremy. Ten minutes later Nico came on. Spain’s percentage of possession dropped to 67 per cent, but all five of Spain’s shots on goal were on target.
Nico was the real spark in the young midfield, a midfield improved by the presence of Barcelona pair Gavi and Pedri. Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia, more experienced players, failed to create anything of note in a poor first half showing.
In the 84th minute, Williams burst forward, this time from the right. He turned onto his left after a stepover to shoot low from 25 yards. It was another sign of intent and displayed the confidence oozing through the youngster.
Just four minutes later, Dani Carvajal picked Williams out with a deep cross from the right. On just his second appearance for Spain, Williams headed back across goal for Álvaro Morata to score the late winner and send Spain into the Nations League finals.
In just a few days of being together, Nico has won his international team-mates over. “Morata has told me that the goal is mine,” Williams said after the victory, Spain’s first on Portuguese soil since 2003.
“It’s an honour to help the team and get a place in the Nations League finals. Little by little I am growing as a player and as a person. The coach has told me to be brave, to go for it. Being involved in the World Cup is the coach’s decision,” he added.
Luis Enrique will decide, but Nico has to go to the 2022 World Cup.