Football News

“Once again it’s all about Bale” – Dragons legend joins exclusive club as Wales end World Cup exile with point vs USA

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:33, 21 November 2022

Gareth Bale ensured Wales had a positive return to the world stage as he helped secure a 1-1 draw with the USA in their World Cup Group B opener.

Monday night marked the end of a 64-year wait for Wales as they played World Cup football for the first time since 1958, the biggest gap between tournaments by an nation in the competition’s history. Just getting to the tournament sparked celebrations to remember in Wales and for some, anything past that would be seen as a bonus.

But these Welsh players were not going to be happy with making up the numbers at the World Cup. They wanted another Euro 2016 when they made it all the way to the semi-finals in their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

For quite some time it looked as though it would be an unhappy return for Wales as they struggled, particularly in the first half. The Dragons were extremely poor in front of goal in the opening 45 minutes managing just two shots, with neither hitting the target, and an xG of 0.2. They were weak defensively too and when Timothy Weah slotted the ball past Wayne Hennessey following Christian Pulisic’s through ball, it was nothing less than the USA deserved.

It was a wonderful moment for Weah too, netting his first World Cup goal, achieving something his father George was never able to manage despite winning the Ballon d’Or – due to representing Liberia. Pulisic had also now been directly involved in 20 goals for the USA in World Cup matches (including qualifying) with his eighth assist to go with 12 goals.

Something had to change at half time and Rob Page made the alteration, bringing on Kieffer Moore to give Wales an outlet up front and someone capable of holding the ball up. It didn’t take too long for the substitution to make a difference on the pitch, as Wales certainly had more of a foothold and looked more dangerous going forward.

“That was nothing against Daniel James at all,” Page said of the half-time change. “It just suited Kieffer, to get us up the pitch, we just couldn’t play over their press, we couldn’t get through.

“So for us to make that little tweak and play over it into Kieffer to get us up the pitch it did make a big difference. Like I said, it was tactical.”

In a stark contrast to their two shots in the first half, Wales had five after half-time including a header from Ben Davies — who had the joint-most shots on the pitch — which forced an excellent save from Matt Turner. Yet for a while it still felt as though the goal wouldn’t come for Wales as they struggled to get talisman Bale into the game.

But as it always does for Bale on the big stage for Wales, the moment came. From a long throw into the box, Bale had his first key touch in the area and was brought down by Tim Ream who tackled through the Welshman to get the ball.

Of course it was Bale who stepped up and rifled his penalty home, for his 41st goal for Wales, 35 of which have come in competitive matches. He also became just the fourth player to score for Wales at the World Cup and the first since Terry Medwin in their 2-1 win over Hungary in the 1958 World Cup play-off.

Speaking after the game, Bale said of taking the penalty: “No doubts in my head. I feel like I have to step up, and I’m happy to do so.

“Incredible [to have a World Cup goal] but I’d rather have the three points. From the second half our performance was fantastic so [we’ll take] a lot of confidence, things to work on also.”

Roy Keane added post-match: “We’ve been talking about Bale all day today, it’s about moments for these players. Written in the stars for him when he turns up for Wales.”

Bale perhaps could have had an opportunity to win the game late on as he picked the ball up just inside the USA half after Turner had come well out of his goal to clear the ball, but he was brought down by LAFC teammate Kellyn Acosta. It was a fitting moment, as pre-match Acosta had revealed his plan to stop Bale was to “start kicking him around the field a little bit”.

In the end the points were shared and Wales going into their game against Iran on Friday knowing their fate is very much in their own hands, while perhaps hoping old rivals England do them a favour. But for now it’s the Bale show for Wales.

“He’s never let us down has he? Once again it’s all about Bale, rightly so,” as Page said.