Nico Williams leads majestic Spain into last 16 with win over Italy at Euro 2024

There they were, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Andrea Cambiasso, wearily sizing up the younger, fitter, faster, stronger man in front of them once again, like a couple of wounded bouncers realising they had bitten off more than the could chew but were in a fight they could not get out of. And Nico Williams just would not stop coming at them.

Spain produced a staggering 58 attacks on a night when Italy were battered into submission and it felt like Williams had a monopoly on them, an unsparing, devastating opponent who looked like he could have kept going long into the night and never get tired.

Luciano Spalletti, the Italy coach, had sent on Cambiasso at half-time in the hope that, in tandem with Di Lorenzo, they might at least be able to discourage the juggernaut down Spain’s right flank. The problem was Williams took even greater pleasure and motivation from the chance to wreak double the destruction as Spain swept into the last 16 on the back of the most arresting performance of the tournament so far.

By the time he had returned to the dressing room after the final whistle, the Athletic Bilbao forward and Spain’s totem was greeted to a standing ovation from his team-mates, having already received one from the country’s jubilant supporters salivating in the stands.

Watching back home, and bursting with pride, was Williams’ brother and Bilbao team-mate, Inaki, who was quick to register his approval. “I was delighted with the reception I got in the dressing room,” Williams said. “I grabbed my phone and saw a text from my brother and the rest of my family. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. I think that’s my most complete performance for Spain.”

Ignore the scoreline, secured courtesy of an own goal from Riccardo Calafiori that Williams, who else, had helped to force; it did scant justice to the scale of Spain’s dominance or the majesty of a display that had a bit of everything bar the bundle of goals their superiority and sublime football deserved. This was statement football, tiki-taka on speed.


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