Wales salvaged a point against the USA drawing 1-1 in their opening tie of the 2022 FIFA World Cup this evening at the Al Rayyan Stadium Doha, as they played in their first World Cup finals match since 1958.
A second half penalty from Gareth Bale, after the same player had been fouled in the box earning a deserved point for Rob Page’s side in a game of two halves, after Timothy Weah had given the American’s a first-half lead.
It had been 64 years since the nation qualified for a finals and for many of Rob Page’s side which has grown together as a team over the last decade, this will be their last chance to play on the big stage.
Having finished second in their qualification group behind Belgium, Wales became the final nation to qualify for Qatar, having overcome Ukraine 1-0 in a delayed play-off match in June.
Form has not been the best with a poor Nations Cup campaign with back-to-back losses against the Netherlands and marginal defeats against Belgium and Poland. Their worst run in a decade.
For Wales though it shows how far the country has come in recent years that tight losses in those fixtures are looked upon with disappointment from growing expectations from a nation only making its second appearance at a finals.
The USA’s path was also not an easy ride qualifying by the skin of their teeth, finishing above Costa Rica on goal difference alone to seal their place without the prospect of a playoff themselves.
Gregg Berhalter’s men came into the tournament in indifferent form. Scoreless from disappointing September’s warm up matches against Saudi Arabia where they were held to a goalless draw and also a 2-0 reverse against Japan, had left questions of where the goals would come from in their youthful lineup. The second youngest in the tournament.
It was USA who started the game brighter with a bright spell of possession forcing the Welsh to defend deep in their own half.
The Welsh missing the energy and tenacity of experienced Swansea City midfielder Joe Allen struggled to get an early foothold in the game as USA’s high pressing strategy was proving to be fruitful.
The USA forced the game’s first opportunity as Page’s team were not given time to settle into the match. Tim Weah floating a cross from the right-hand side dangerously in the box, Joe Rodon under extreme pressure, inadvertently heading into his own net. Wayne Hennessey in the Welsh goal though producing a reaction save to save the ex-Swansea City defenders blushes.
Moments later Norwich City striker Josh Sargent then tried to pick up the pieces from playmaker Christian Pulisic’s inventive cross, almost breaking the deadlock. His header though only managing to find the side netting of Hennessey’s post with the striker well placed.
With Leeds United’s Tyler Adams dictating play for the USA, leading the high pressing work rate in the American midfield, USA were regularly breaking up and stifling the Welsh attack. Wales attackers Gareth Bale and Dan James looking isolated at the top end of the pitch.
Despite their early chances their American counterparts were also finding the Welsh defense frugal as they tried to fashion a spell of possession in a half of few chances.
The Welsh resistance however was broken by the USA just after the half hour mark. The industrious Pulisic weighting a ball between two Welsh centre halves, finding the pacey Weah who shot first time into the bottom right-hand corner past Hennessey to put the Americans into a deserved lead
This brought a reaction from the Welsh as they tried to force an impression on the game, but all too often elements of frustration kicked in as Page’s side looked to regroup at the break.
The Welsh improved after the break with the introduction of Kiefer Moore as Page’s side looked to play with more positivity in their play as they kept possession much better than in the first period.
Bournemouth striker Moore proving to be a handful as Wales looked to open up their American counterparts as they pushed on wing-backs Connor Roberts and Neco Williams who had been pinned back for such large periods.
Their pressure nearly produced dividends midway through the second half as the game opened up. Tottenham Hotspur defender Ben Davies rising high to produce a fingertip save from Matt Turner in the American goal, pushing the ball over the bar from a Welsh free kick.
The resulting corner though fashioned an even better chance for Wales. Moore rising high but unable to glance his header on target with the American goal beckoning as the Welsh started to impose themselves on the game as American energies faltered.
The Welsh toiled trying to make a decisive break through and were presented with an opportunity ten minutes from time as Tim Ream dived in on Gareth Bale to foul Wales talisman in the box.
Bale himself dusted himself down to smash his spot kick into the roof of the USA top corner to send Welsh fans into delirium to level the score line.
Both sides pushed for a winner in a frenetic period of play but 1-1 would prove to be a fair result from an even battle.
Wayne Hennesey, Chris Mepham, Joe Rodon, Ben Davies, Connor Roberts, Ethan Ampadu (Joe Morrell 90), Aaron Ramsey, Neco Williams (Brennan Johnson 78), Harry Wilson (Sorba Thomas 90), Gareth Bale, Dan James (Kiefer Moore 45).
Matt Turner, Sergino Dest (DeAndre Yedlin 73), Tim Ream, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, Weston McKennie (Brenden Aaronson 66), Tyler Adams (captain), Yonus Musah (Kellyn Acosta 73), Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah (Jordan Morris 86), Joshua Sargent (Haji Wright 73).
(Lead image: CNeil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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