Williams scores in the Copa to help Athletic defeat Barcelona after returning from the Africa Cup.
MADRID (AP) — On the day he returned from Ghana’s early elimination in the Africa Cup, Iñaki Williams scored in extra time to help Athletic Bilbao defeat Barcelona 4-2 and secure a trip to the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Williams came off the bench on Wednesday, two days after Ghana’s previous game in Ivory Coast, at the hour mark. In the 107th minute, he scored from the rebound after he had sent his own attempt into the post. Nico Williams, his younger brother, then completed the victory in stoppage time, advancing Athletic to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.
For Barcelona, which was hoping to qualify for the Copa semifinals for the second consecutive year, it was yet another crushing setback. The Catalan team fell 4-1 to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, missing another opportunity to win a championship.
In 2022, Barcelona was defeated by Athletic in extra time at the Copa round of 16.
Athletic was eliminated in the semifinals by Valencia in 2022 and Osasuna in 2023 after finishing second in 2019–20 and 2020–21. The competition was last won by the Basque Country club in 1984.
Williams arrived in Spain the morning of the Copa match between the two most successful teams, Athletic with 23 titles and Barcelona with 31. He began the game on the bench.
Entering the game in the 59th minute, the 29-year-old forward wasted little time in extra time, scoring from close range after his first effort from inside the area struck the post.
Williams remarked, “I could never have imagined this, not even in my wildest dreams.” “Everything worked out flawlessly. I never imagined coming here yesterday, especially after such a hard blow (with Ghana).
Williams, whose parents emigrated from Ghana to Spain before he was born, made unimpressive debuts in the Africa Cup, as Ghana was eliminated in the group round. After two draws and a loss, Ghana went home without a goal from him.
San Mames Stadium was the scene of an open game with plenty of goal opportunities for both sides.
In the 86th minute, teenager Lamine Yamal had a one-on-one opportunity to score Barcelona’s game-winning goal in regulation, but he dribbled past Athletic goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala and missed the open net from inside the area.
“It’s tough to win on the road in a single-elimination match,” Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernández remarked. “That’s how things work in the Copa.”
A minute into the game, Gorka Guruzeta’s goal gave Athletic the lead.
After a strong run by the 16-year-old forward, Yamal scored in the 32nd minute to give the visitors a late lead. Robert Lewandowski scored in the 26th. A defender attempted to clear the ball from in front of the net, but Lewandowski’s goal was fortunate since it bounced off his leg.
In the 49th, Oihan Sancet’s header gave Athletic a point.
Just 23 minutes into the game, Barcelona defender Alejandro Balde had to be removed due to what appeared to be a muscular injury.
Athletic, currently ranked fifth in the Spanish league, had won six straight games in all competitions prior to Saturday’s 1-0 league loss to Valencia.
Barcelona, now ranked third in the Spanish league, has won six of its last seven games overall.
GIRONA WAS REMOVED
Girona, the top team in the Spanish league, fell to Mallorca 3-2 and lost the opportunity to advance to the Copa semifinals for the first time.
By the 35th minute, the goals of Antonio Raíllo, Abdón Prats, and Cyle Larin had given the hosts a 3-0 lead. Girona’s goals came from Savinho in stoppage time and Cristhian Stuani in the 68th.
After Raíllo received two yellow cards in a row for the foul that resulted in a penalty kick and for protesting to the referee, Girona started playing with one man down in the 67th minute.
Real Sociedad advanced to the Copa semifinals for the first time since winning the competition four seasons ago on Tuesday, defeating Celta Vigo 2-1.