The ball is by Inaki Williams’ left foot. David D’Costa is on the ground, colour draining out of his face, eyes on the ball and his left hand almost on Williams’s right foot. Williams eyes too are on the ball, left foot slightly raised in the air, caressing the ball. In the Portugal dugout, an aghast Christiano Ronaldo’s jaw had dropped, hands flailing over his head in fear of the worst. The blinds were coming down on D’Costa’s world, William’s was about to light up brightly. Or so it seemed.
Just seconds had remained for the referee to blow his breath out to whistle to end the game when this drama erupted. Ghana’s Inaki Williams was standing at the Portugal goal post. A few yards ahead of him was Portugal’s goalkeeper David D’Costa, who obviously didn’t see him. As D’Costa leaned and rolled the ball forward for the kick, Williams sprinted ahead for the great heist at the world cup.
From diagonally to the left of D’Costa, Portugal defender Danillo Pereira would run in. To his left, his team-mate Ruben Dias would scramble into the centre of the box. Three men aware of the day-light heist, and the unaware D’Costa is hit by the reality. Williams darted ahead, and even as he crouched to hook the back with his right foot, he slipped. But remarkably, he was back on his feet in a blink even as the goalie lunged down.
There is a shot from a photographer Albert Gea of Reuters that captures the moment.
Now, Williams was standing up, facing the goal, the ball and the world cup on his left foo. D’Costa is down. Beyond the two men, we can see the Ghana dugout. Some sitting, some standing but all on the ball, Those standing are shouting in anticipation. Above them, in the first tier of the stands, remarkably most fans in the frame seem to have cottoned on to the moment. There is a frozen anticipation – a classic what next moment on everyone’s faces.
Williams’s backstory is known now. How his parents fled the Liberian civil war, crossed a desert to find life. “They did part (of the journey) in a truck, one of those with the open back, 40 people packed in, then walked for days,” Inaki told the Guardian last year. “People fell, left along the way, people they buried. It’s dangerous, there are thieves waiting, rapes, suffering. Some are tricked into it. Traffickers get paid and then halfway say, ‘The journey ends here.’ Chuck you out, leave you with nothing, no water, no food. Kids, old people, women. People go not knowing what’s ahead, if they’ll make it.”
That was a matter of life and death. Here he was on a sporting field, at the world cup, going ahead in the hope that he would make it. But the ball, the orb, was rapidly slipping out of Williams’ control. Ruben Dias and Periera would reach the crime scene from different directions. Dias went for the ball. Periera kept running in ahead of the fallen D’Costa and stumbling Williams to cover the goal.
Minutes ago, Pereira had let a ball slip through his legs in the box, in front of the goalmouth, allowing Ghana to score the second goal. When Periera was two and living in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, his mother had to leave him to go to Portugal to study to become a nurse. Only 3 years later, they would rejoin for good. He would grow up to be part of Portugals’ triumphs in Euro 2016 and UEFA nations league 2019. But now at the world cup, in a desert, he was running towards his redemption.
Just 10 days ago, in a league-2 club match in England, Stevenage’s Danny Rose had sneaked from behind the goalie to pull off a viral goal. That was a club game. This was the world cup. Knees go weak, brains can get scrambled.
Williams makes one last gasp to take the ball clear of Dias but it yanks away from him, he reaches out with his left foot but falls. Out of balance, out of luck. A weak push results and Periera clears it. Game over. Ronaldo smiles.