BSS
  21 Jun 2024, 09:30

Williams torments Italy as Spain youngsters star at Euro 2024

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany, June 21, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Livewire winger Nico Williams was irresistible in Spain's 1-0 win over Italy at Euro 2024, the pick of a selection of exciting young stars who are raising hopes of a return to the glory days for La Roja.

The 21-year-old Athletic Bilbao left-winger ran Italy right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged in Gelsenkirchen as Spain made it two wins from two at the tournament to clinch top spot in Group B and a last-16 berth.

The only wonder was how Spain did not win by a wider margin in a performance which earned them a measure of revenge for what happened when the sides met at Euro 2020.

It was a display which put the reigning champions firmly in their place and sent out a message to the rest of the continent to watch out for the nation that enjoyed so much success a decade ago.

The winners of Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 lost on penalties to Italy in the semi-finals at Wembley three years ago.

They completely dominated here, with the craft and skill of 21-year-old duo Williams and Pedri, and 16-year-old Lamine Yamal -- the trio behind striker Alvaro Morata -- proving too much for their opponents.

It took several important saves from Gianluigi Donnarumma to keep Italy in the game in the first half, including one from a Pedri header following a Williams cross inside 90 seconds.

Williams himself missed a glorious chance with a header soon after, but he spent most of his evening wreaking havoc on the left.

It was from there that he made the goal 10 minutes after the break, as he again got away from Di Lorenzo before sending in a cross that was bundled into his own net by Riccardo Calafiori.

All that was missing from his performance was a goal of his own, which he almost got 20 minutes from time when he cut inside and sent a shot crashing off the bar.

Williams came off 12 minutes from time to a loud ovation and later left the stadium with the award for man of the match.

"I felt incredible. I think this was maybe my most complete performance yet for the national team and I hope to continue this way," he said.

- 'Shop window' -

He came into the tournament off the back of an outstanding season with Athletic, as he helped the Basque club win the Copa del Rey.

Williams' brother Inaki, eight years his senior, plays alongside him at club level but represents Ghana internationally and played for the Black Stars at this year's Africa Cup of Nations -- the brothers were born in Spain to parents who came there from the West African country.

The younger Williams brother also topped the assists chart in La Liga and his performances have led to speculation that he could be prised away by a big-money offer over the summer.

"I am very focused on what I am doing here," said the player who has a contract in Bilbao until 2027.

"This is like a shop window for me, but I am very focused on the Euros and on what I need to do to help the team, which is why the coach brought me here.

"I am still aiming for more but I'm very happy and this is for all the people who have shown faith in me."

Williams, like the Barcelona playmaker Pedri, was blooded in the national team by former coach Luis Enrique and he played at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when Spain exited in the last 16.

But his importance to the national team has grown in recent months and the presence of Williams on one flank, and Yamal on the other, adds a different dimension to this Spain team, helping make them genuine contenders.

"The first thing my teammates did when I came back into dressing room was applaud me," revealed Williams, who said that his big brother had not wasted time in congratulating him for his performance.

"When I picked up my phone I had a voice message from my brother, who is a source of unconditional support for me. This is also for him, for my parents and for the Williams family."

 

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