There was frustration for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) in its opening game of Qatar 2022 as Gareth Bale scored a late penalty for Wales.
The USMNT was dominant for much of the match, but as has so often been the case, it was LAFC star Bale who dug Wales out of a sticky situation as this Group B game ended 1-1.
The 22-year-old Timothy Weah, son of soccer great George Weah, had put the US ahead in the first-half with a fine finish but this young US side – with an average age of 25 years and 175 days – was unable to maintain its dominance and allowed Wales to snatch a draw.
There was no shortage of American fans inside the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday and they made their voices heard, exchanging songs with the Welsh contingent behind the opposite goal.
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The familiar “U-S-A” chants reverberated around the venue on what was a welcome cool night in Doha. For much of the match, it looked as though those fans would be celebrating a much deserved win.
But just as all hope looked to have disappeared for Wales, Bale was clumsily brought down by Walker Zimmerman in the US box.
There was then no doubt as Bale stepped up to fire his spot-kick into the top corner of the net.
It sent the Welsh fans behind the goal into a frenzy and it was Bale’s name being sung the loudest at the final whistle.
“He has never let us down,” Wales manager Rob Paige said of Bale after the game.
Wales, playing in its first World Cup match since 1958, seemed to struggle with the occasion in the first half and even Bale had looked off the pace until his goal.
But the USMNT’s so-called ‘golden generation’ showed a touch of naivety.
The team has a real opportunity to shine in Qatar 2022 but will need to quickly learn the lessons from this match before facing a much sterner test against England on Friday.
What was most surprising was its drop-off in performance after the halftime interval. The US pressed with intensity in the opening 45 minutes and limited Wales to a few wasteful balls into the channels.
US star Christian Pulisic looked lively and Weah, who was living his father’s dream by playing in a World Cup, looked to have scored the winner with a delicate finish with the outside of his boot.
But a change of shape from Wales seemed to surprise the young US players who weren’t able to adapt to a more direct approach from their experienced opponents.
“Walking into the locker room after the game you could see the disappointment on their faces,” US head coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters after the game. “We got a bit sloppy with the ball in the second half, we had control in the first half.”
He added: “Even when we’re winning, we’re thinking about how we could close out the game, but it didn’t happen. Players were disappointed, staff were disappointed.”
A draw, for both teams, is not the end of the world and still leaves qualification into the knockout stages a real possibility.
Meanwhile in Group A, late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen gave Holland a 2-0 win over Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium.
Holland’s win puts Louis van Gaal’s team joint top of the group with Ecuador, who beat Qatar 2-0 on Sunday.