Gareth Bale’s late penalty earned Wales a 1-1 draw against the United States in their 2022 World Cup opener in Qatar.
The Welsh looked destined for defeat in their first appearance in the tournament for 64 years after Timothy Weah opened the scoring in the first half.
But their talisman Bale came out on top and netted the free-kick to earn them a valuable point in Group B.
They next face Iran on Friday morning, while the United States take on Group B leaders England on the evening of the same day – after Gareth Southgate’s side won 6-2 earlier on Monday.
The highlights of the game…
- 9 mins: Wayne Hennessey makes a reaction save to prevent his own team-mate Joe Rodon, before Josh Sargent then hits the post with a header.
- 36 mins: Christian Pulisic slips a perfectly weighted pass past Timothy Weah, who kicked the ball past Hennessey for USA’s opener.
- 65 minutes: Glorious opportunity for Kieffer Moore from a corner which the substitute directs just above the bar.
- 82 mins: Gareth Bale scores from the penalty spot after being tripped by Walker Zimmerman in the box.
Bale makes the difference again for Wales
It was the United States who dominated the early stages and could have taken the lead at nine minutes as Joe Rodon’s unintended header towards his own goal was fended off by Wayne Hennessey, before Josh Sargent nodded against the post soon after.
The breakthrough came in the 36th minute as Christian Pulisic found space to slip a pass behind for Weah, who smartly kicked the ball past Hennessey and into the bottom corner.
Wales had been overwhelmed in the first half and in response manager Rob Page brought in Kieffer Moore for the ineffective Dan James at the break.
The Bournemouth striker should have equalized for Wales in the 65th minute as he got up at the near post from a corner but somehow headed off with the net at his mercy .
UNITED STATES: Turner (6), Dest (6), Zimmerman (7), Ream (7), Robinson (8), McKennie (7), Adams (6), Musah (6), Weah (7), Sargent (6), Pulisic (8).
Subtitles: 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), Ball (7).
Subtitles: Moore (8), Johnson (6), Thomas (n/a), Morrell (n/a).
Man of the match: Ethan Ampadu
Eight minutes from the end, however, they found the equaliser. Bale got in front of Walker Zimmerman in the box to get tripped up and win a penalty, before getting up to kick the ball past Matt Turner.
‘All about Bale again’
“He never let us down,” said Wales manager Rob Page TVI. “Again, it’s all about Bale and rightly so.”
He always makes a difference for his country. In truth, it had been a quiet performance from Bale until he provided the decisive moment late in the second half.
A 41st goal for his country, a first for Wales in the World Cup for 64 years. It would always be him who made the difference.
“We’ve been talking about Bale all day and it’s always about moments for this player,” said Roy Keane. TVI.
“It’s written in the stars for him when he turns up for Wales, and it was a great ending.”
He’s been the leader of his country for so long, but he doesn’t seem to feel the pressure or the weight of responsibility. In fact, he relishes it.
“There was no doubt in my head [I was going to take the penalty]“, said Bale TVI. “I have to step up and I’m happy to do that.”
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Page hailed how Bale is able to use his experience to win key moments for his country.
“We have evolved Gareth’s position,” he said. “He can still play wide, of course he can, but I like giving him the freedom to come inside and play against a leader. He’s very good at finding those spaces, he’s smart, he has a wise head so he puts himself in these positions in the box to be able to get us a penalty.
“Defenders engage in tackling and if you don’t get the timing right in the box it’s inevitably a penalty. I think he used all his wisdom there.”
Page: Moore vital in the second half
Wales manager Rob Page:
A crucial turning point in the match came at half-time when Wales boss Page replaced James with striker Moore. This helped his team climb higher up the pitch and turn the game in their favor.
“It was nothing at all against Dan James,” Page told ITV. “It suited Kieffer perfectly to get us on the pitch, we just couldn’t pass [their press]. So that little tweak to playing on it made a big difference.
“To be a goal behind against a very good team in the United States is similar to Switzerland’s game at the Euros for us. We showed character and determination to come back and score a point of the match .
“It’s important at the start of the tournament that you don’t lose the match. Congratulations to the guys for the change they put in place to get us this point.”
What does the result…
The result leaves both teams trailing England in Group B, having secured all three points against Iran on Monday afternoon.
Analysis: Wales show fight on big night
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Wales are still there. For 45 minutes, we were afraid that they wouldn’t even arrive. But a spirited second-half performance made it a night to remember. Kieffer Moore’s introduction transformed the game. Gareth Bale’s goal saved him for his country again.
In the context of the history of Welsh football, that was huge. A first World Cup match in 64 years. As part of Group B at the 2022 World Cup, it was almost as big. Many felt this was the key game. Lose and Wales may have had to beat Iran and England to progress.
This perhaps explained the cautious approach in the first half. It’s more likely that the United States’ pressing game kept them from playing. Daniel James has pace but couldn’t keep the ball up so he kept coming back. The match was played in the Wales half.
Rob Page may have miscalculated thinking this was a play that required speed on the counterattack rather than the more rugged Moore’s heist play. To his credit, the Wales boss was quick to make the change at half-time.
Within minutes of the restart, Moore’s importance was evident, protecting possession, allowing time for bodies to join him in attack. It wasn’t particularly pretty but it was effective when Harry Wilson was throwing balls into the box. Finally, there was a threat.
It was fitting that the equalizer was brought up by Bale with help from Aaron Ramsey. So much trust was placed in the pair that turned him on in Qatar. Ramsey has started just three of Nice’s last 15 games. Bale has started just three club games in 15 month.
But some players are just special. The moments seem to find them. Ramsey raced from a quick throw-in and Bale was alert enough to get between the ball and the defender. With the red wall peering behind the goal, it seemed inevitable that the penalty kicked in.
“They played well and we played badly, but the gaffer changed a few things and the boys fought like we always do,” Bale said afterwards. That’s what the fans wanted to see. The spirit of 1958 is alive in 2022. Wales is still here.
What else happened at the World Cup on Monday?
Early in the day, England kicked off their Group B campaign with a resounding 6-2 victory over Iranwith Bukayo Saka scoring twice.
Netherlands scored two late goals to win 2-0 against Senegal and end up at the top of Group A with Ecuador.