Gareth Bale’s late penalty earned Wales a 1-1 draw against the USA in their World Cup 2022 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 won and scored the spot-kick to earn them a precious point in Group B.
They next face Iran on Friday morning, while the USA take on Group B leaders England in the evening on the same day – after Gareth Southgate’s side won 6-2 earlier on Monday.
Big moments in the game…
- 9 mins: Wayne Hennessey makes a reaction save to keep out 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 into the path of Timothy Weah, who jabbed the ball past Hennessey for the opener for the USA.
- 65 mins: Glorious opportunity for Kieffer Moore from a corner that the substitute heads just over the bar.
- 82 mins: Gareth Bale scores from the penalty spot after being tripped by Walker Zimmerman in the box.
Bale the difference again for Wales
It was the USA who dominated the early stages and could have taken the lead on nine minutes as Joe Rodon’s inadvertent header towards his own goal was kept out by Wayne Hennessey, before Josh Sargent nodded against the post shortly after.
The breakthrough came on 36 minutes as Christian Pulisic found space to slip a pass in behind for Weah, who smartly jabbed the ball past Hennessey and into the bottom corner.
Wales had been overwhelmed in the first half and in response manager Rob Page brought on Kieffer Moore for the ineffective Dan James at the break.
The Bournemouth striker should have levelled for Wales on 65 minutes, as he rose at the near post from a corner, but somehow headed over with the net at his mercy.
USA: Turner (6), Dest (6), Zimmerman (7), Ream (7), Robinson (8), McKennie (7), Adams (6), Musah (6), Weah (7), Sargent (6), Pulisic (8).
Subs: 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).
Subs: Moore (8), Johnson (6), Thomas (n/a), Morrell (n/a).
Man of the match: Ethan Ampadu
With eight minutes to go they did find the equaliser, however. Bale got himself in front of Walker Zimmerman in the box to be tripped and win a penalty, before stepping up himself to thunder the ball past Matt Turner.
‘All about Bale again’
“He’s never let us down,” Wales manager Rob Page told ITV. “Once again it’s all about Bale and rightly so.”
He always makes the difference for his country. It had, in truth, been a quiet performance from Bale up 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 was always going to be him to make the difference.
“We’ve been talking about Bale all day and it’s always about moments for this player,” Roy Keane told ITV.
“It’s written in the stars for him when he turns out for Wales, and it was a great finish.”
He has been the leader for his country for so long, but he does not seem to feel the pressure or the burden of responsibility. In fact he relishes it.
“There were no doubts in my head [I was going to take the penalty],” Bale told ITV. “I have to step up and I’m happy to do so.”
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Page praised the way Bale is able to use his experience to win key moments for his country.
“We’ve evolved Gareth’s position,” he said. “He can still play out wide, of course he can, but I like to give him the freedom to come inside and play off a frontman. He’s very good at finding those spaces, he’s intelligent, he’s got a wise head so he puts himself in those positions in the box to be able to get us a penalty.
“Defenders commit to making tackles and if you don’t get the timing right in the box inevitably it’s a penalty. I think he used all his wisdom there.”
Page: Moore vital in second half
Wales manager Rob Page:
A crucial turning point in the game came at half-time when Wales boss Page replaced James with striker Moore. It helped get his side further up the pitch and turn the game in their favour.
“It was nothing against Dan James at all,” Page told ITV. “It just suited Kieffer to get us up the pitch, we just couldn’t get through [their press]. So that little tweak to play over it did make a big difference.
“To go a goal behind against a very good team in USA, it’s similar to the Switzerland game in the Euros for us. We showed character and determination to come back and get a point out of the game.
“It’s important at the start of the tournament that you don’t lose the game. Credit to the lads for the shift they put in to get us that point.”
What the result means…
The result leaves both sides trailing England in Group B, after they earned all three points against Iran on Monday afternoon.
For Wales boss Page, he believes England and then USA are the favourites to win the group – but expects there to be surprises.
“They looked good, England. They’re the favourites to go and win the group. USA second favourites,” he said. “There will be a few surprises along the way. We’re just going to plan for a tough game on Friday and see where that takes us going into the last game against England.”
Analysis: Wales show fight on big night
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Wales are still here. For 45 minutes, the fear was that they were not even going to arrive. But a spirited second-half performance made this a night to remember. Kieffer Moore’s introduction turned the game. Gareth Bale’s goal salvaged it for his country yet again.
In the context of Welsh football history, this was huge. A first World Cup game in 64 years. In the context of Group B at the 2022 World Cup, it was almost as big. Many felt this was the key fixture. Lose and Wales may have had to beat Iran and England to progress.
Perhaps that explained the circumspect approach in the first half. More likely it was that the pressing game of the United States prevented them from playing out. Daniel James has pace but could not keep the ball so it kept coming back. The game was played in Wales’ half.
Rob Page might have miscalculated in thinking this was a game that required speed on the counter-attack rather than the hold-up play of the more robust Moore. To his credit, the Wales boss did not delay, making the change at the half-time interval.
Within minutes of the restart, Moore’s importance was obvious, shielding possession, allowing time for bodies to join him in attack. It was not particularly pretty but it was effective when Harry Wilson was swinging balls into the box. Finally, there was a threat.
It was fitting that the equaliser was conjured up by Bale with help from Aaron Ramsey. So much faith has been placed in the pair turning it on in Qatar. Ramsey has started only three of Nice’s last 15 matches. Bale has started only three club games in 15 months.
But some players are just special. The moments seem to find them. Ramsey made the run from a quick throw-in and Bale was alert enough to put himself between ball and defender. With the red wall watching on from behind the goal, it felt inevitable that the penalty would go in.
“They played well and we played poor but the gaffer changed a few things around and the boys came out fighting like we always do,” said Bale afterwards. That is what the supporters wanted to see. The spirit of 1958 is alive in 2022. Wales are still here.
What else happened at the World Cup on Monday?
Earlier in the day, England kicked off their Group B campaign with a thumping 6-2 victory over Iran, with Bukayo Saka scoring twice.
Netherlands scored two late goals to win 2-0 against Senegal and go joint top of Group A with Ecuador.