When Wales last played in the World Cup, their first game ended 1-1 with the great John Charles scoring a goal. Sixty-four years old, it was fitting that another Welsh hero Gareth Bale lifted it on his final comeback.
It had to be Bale. For 45 minutes, the game passed him by. The United States, all the enthusiasm and all the efforts, fueled by the optimism of the youth, seemed certain to steal the show. The start of Kieffer Moore changed the tone. But it took Bale to change the score.
Walker Zimmerman threw the ball into the box but the Wales captain saw it coming. It was careless with Zimmerman but clever with Bale. With a red wall waiting expectantly behind the goal, he fired a penalty with the decision of a man who knew the script.
No Welsh fan would have it any other way. At the age of 33, here he was, the winner of the country’s history, in some ways the most successful player to ever come out of the British Isles, finally winning the World Cup and putting the event with an important goal.
Football fans in the country have been waiting since 1958, but Bale’s patience has also been tested. On the eve of the last World Cup, Bale was the man of the match for Real Madrid against Liverpool after scoring twice in the Champions League final.
Wales did not make it to Russia.
Just before the previous tournament in 2014, he scored the winner in that year’s Champions League against Atletico Madrid.
Wales did not travel to Brazil again.
Although it may seem insulting to Welsh fans to read and let someone else write, this version of Bale is a shadow of the talent that took the match at its peak and adorned it with elegance and class for several years later.
He is interested now. Logic tells you that he has already passed his limits. That should be obvious. The exhaust pressure from the bottom is no more. There were times against the United States when his wanderings made him seem like a man of his time.
How could he not be? Bale has started just two games for the club since moving to Los Angeles in the summer and made just four starts for Real Madrid last season. The jibe that he is a part-time player is not true but also irrelevant.
But what makes his work so remarkable, what makes his Welsh legend grow, is that his weight loss does not stop him from thinking about his country. Another big thing in the Welsh shirt came in 2022.
It was his two goals that won the World Cup semi-final against Austria and his curling ball that decided against Ukraine. He was a top scorer and produced many assists to qualify even though he was on the pitch for more than half his time.
There was further evidence of the same offensive ability to bend a big advantage to his will when he came off the bench to equalize against Los Angeles in the 128th minute of the MLS Cup final earlier this month. Now, in his next appearance, he is doing just that.
Maybe some players are just special. Times seem to have found them. Or maybe adults keep calm when others lose theirs. The unfortunate Zimmerman, for example, made a rash decision under duress. Bale made the right move when needed.
It would be so crazy. If Kellyn Acosta had allowed him to shoot closer to the halfway line in stoppage time, with Matt Turner off his line, instead of crushing his Los Angeles team-mate, Bale might have secured a thrilling victory.
That, of course, was the last Hollywood one of many. But for all his recent heroics, the irony of the Bale and Wales story is that it is far from over.