Gareth Bale’s late penalty earned Wales a 1-1 draw against the USA in their 2022 World Cup opener in Qatar.
Wales looked destined for defeat on their first appearance in the competition for 64 years when Timothy Weah opened the scoring in the first half.
But their talisman Bale came through and scored the goals to give them a valuable point in Group B.
They face Iran again on Friday morning, while the USA face Group B leaders England later that evening – after Gareth Southgate’s side won 6-2 earlier on Monday.
Big moments in sports…
- 9 mins: Wayne Hennessey reacts to keep out teammate Joe Rodon, before Josh Sargent hits a header.
- 36 min: Christian Pulisic curls a brilliant pass into the path of Timothy Weah, who flicks the ball past Hennessey in the USA’s opener.
- 65 mins: Glorious chance by Kieffer Moore from a corner as the substitute just goes over the bar.
- 82nd minute: Gareth Bale scores a goal after tripping Walker Zimmerman in the box.
Bale difference again for Wales
It was the USA who dominated early and could have taken the lead on nine minutes when Joe Rodon’s header was saved by Wayne Hennessey, before Josh Sargent headed in shortly after.
The winner came in the 36th minute when Christian Pulisic found space to pass behind Weah, who brilliantly flicked the ball past Hennessey and into the ground.
Wales were overwhelmed in the first half and in response manager Rob Page brought on Kieffer Moore for not working Dan James at the break.
The Bournemouth striker should have leveled Wales’ lead on 65 minutes, when he headed in from a corner, but somehow crossed the net at his own mercy.
United States: Turner (6), Dest (6), Zimmerman (7), Ream (7), Robinson (8), McKennie (7), Adams (6), Musah (6), Weah (7), Sargent (6), Police (8).
Subscribers: Aaronson (6), Yedlin (6), Wright (5), Acosta (6), Morris (n/a).
Wales: Hennessey (6), Davies (7), Rodon (8), Mepham (8), Williams (7), Ampadu (9), Ramsey (6), Roberts (6), Wilson (6), James (5), Bale (7).
Subscribers: Moore (8), Johnson (6), Thomas (n/a), Morrell (n/a).
Sportsman: Ethan Ampadu
There were eight minutes left to find an equaliser, however. Bale dropped himself in front of Walker Zimmerman in the box to fall and win a free-kick, before stepping up to curl the ball past Matt Turner.
‘All about Bale again’
“They didn’t let us down,” Wales manager Rob Page said ITV. “Once again all about Bale and rightly so.”
He always changes his world. To be fair, it was quiet from Bale until his last-gasp goal at the end of the second half.
41st goal for his country, Wales’ first in a World Cup for 64 years. It was always going to be him to make the difference.
“We’ve been talking about Bale all day and it’s always about this player’s moments,” Roy Keane said. ITV.
“It was written in the stars for him when he went to Wales, and it was a great finish.”
He has been the leader of his country for a long time, but he does not seem to feel pressured or burdened by the responsibility. On the contrary, they enjoy it.
“There was no doubt in my mind [I was going to take the penalty],” said Bale ITV. “I have to go up and I’m happy to do it.”
Speaking at his post-match press conference, Page praised Bale’s ability to use his skills to win big moments for his country.
“We have changed Gareth’s position,” he said. “He can still play a lot, of course he can, but I like to give him the freedom to come in and play as a forward. He is very good in that position, he is smart, he has a smart head so he puts himself in the places in the box to get us a penalty.
“The defenders are committed to making tackles and if you don’t get the right time in the box it’s definitely a penalty. I think he used all his intelligence there.”
Page: Moore important in the second half
Wales manager Rob Page:
A key change in the game came at half-time when manager Wales Page replaced James with striker Moore. It helped his side progress and turned the game in their favour.
“It wasn’t against Dan James at all,” Page told ITV. “It was up to Kieffer to lift us up, we just couldn’t [their press]. So that little tweak to play with it made a big difference.
“To go forward against the best team in the USA, it’s like the Swiss game in the Euros for us. We showed character and determination to come back and get points in the game.
“It’s important at the start of the competition not to lose the game. Credit to the boys for the changes they put in to get us to this point.”
What does the result mean…
The result leaves both sides behind England in Group B, having secured all three points against Iran on Monday afternoon.
For boss Wales Page, he believes England and the USA are the favorites to win the group – but hopes there will be surprises.
“They looked good, England. They are the favorites to go on to win this group. The USA are second favorites,” he said. “There will be a few surprises along the way. We’ll just prepare for the tough game on Friday and see where it takes us going into the final against England.”
Analysis: Wales show fight on big night
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Wales is still here. For 45 minutes, the fear was that he would never arrive. But a thrilling second half made it a night to remember. Kieffer Moore’s introduction turned the game around. Gareth Bale’s goal saved his country.
In terms of Welsh football history, this was huge. The first World Cup in 64 years. In terms of Group B at the 2022 World Cup, it was a big one. Many thought that this was the most important tool. Lose and Wales probably had to beat Iran and England to progress.
Perhaps that explained the circumspect approach in the first half. It was evident that the United States’ pressure game prevented them from playing. Daniel James has movement but can’t keep the ball so it goes back. The game was played in Wales’ half.
Rob Page may have made the mistake of thinking that this was a game that needed speed in the attack rather than the exercise of Moore’s more powerful game. To his credit, the Welsh boss has not been slow, making changes in the short term.
Just a few minutes from the restart, Moore’s need was clear, to block to stay, to allow time for bodies to join him to attack. It wasn’t exactly pretty but it was effective as Harry Wilson was dropping balls into the box. Finally, there was a threat.
It was fitting that the equalizer was linked with Bale’s assist from Aaron Ramsey. A lot of faith has been placed in the pair lighting up in Qatar. Ramsey has started just three of Nice’s last 15 games. Bale has only started three games for the club in 15 months.
But some players are just special. Times seem to have found them. Ramsey ran and threw quickly and Bale was alert to put himself between the ball and the defender. With the red wall watching from behind the goal, it seemed impossible that the penalty would go in.
“They played well and we played hard but the player changed a bit and the boys came out fighting like we always do,” Bale said afterwards. This is what his followers wanted to see. The spirit of 1958 lives on in 2022. Wales is still here.
What else happened on Monday at the World Cup?
In the past, England kicked off their Group B campaign with a 6-2 win IranBukayo Saka scored twice.
Netherlands scored two late goals to win 2-0 against Senegal and go top of Group A with Ecuador.