Gareth Bale has excelled Wales to a new level once again as the greatest every player for his nation.Embed from Getty Images
Bale’s venomous strike into the top-right corner from the spot has opened the scoring of Wales’ first World Cup since 1958. With a career first goal in the tournament, Bale has proven his worth once more at 33 years-old.
The former Real Madrid star crashed to the ground of USA’s penalty area after Walker Zimmerman’s careless challenge in the 82nd minute. Standing in front of the Sea of Red shirts gathered behind the goal, the former Champions League winner had one thing on his mind. Bale had already taken Wales to their greatest heights of the Euro 2016 semi-final, but it meant nothing with 8 minutes to go in their first World Cup game in 64 years.
Bale hadn’t significantly impacted the game until this point, but after a long wait and a subtly staggered run, the ball was crashed past Matt Turner. After his 109 appearances for the Dragons (the joint most in Wales history with Chris Gunter), Bale scored his 41st goal for his country in the Al Rayyan Stadium to earn them their first point of Qatar 2022.
Wales started the game poorly after Timothy Weah pocked USA into the lead to become the first ever son of a Ballon d’Or winner (George Weah) to score at a World Cup. In their first 45 minutes, Robert Page’s side hadn’t registered a shot on target whilst Fulham’s Daniel James lead the line up-front. Something needed to change if Wales were to surpass USA’s press and unlock the talent of Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Harry Wilson.
Up-stepped Keiffer Moore. The 6’4 Bournemouth striker who’d scored four in the Premier League this season and boasted an impressive nine goals in 28 caps for his country. After replacing James for the second half, it didn’t take long for Wales to get clicking once Moore caused havoc to the US’ system.
As a traditional striker, not only did Moore provide an aerial threat at set pieces, but his technical ability and hold up play gave US’ Zimmermann and Tim far more to think about.
Now that Wales could get forward, Ramsey was able to own the number ten shirt with his slick passes into the final third. Bale was also free to roam around the attack whilst the likes of Ben Davies and Nico Williams could over-whelmed the opposition’s defence.Embed from Getty Images
Although leading up to the penalty, Moore only took the throw-in, the new found confidence of Ramsey allowed the former Arsenal man to produce his best pass of the evening into the US box. With pre-occupied US defence with Zimmerman losing concentration, a hungry Bale capitalised to earn only to be instantly brought to the ground.
It seemed Page started James over Moore with the idea that the former Manchester United winger’s pace would allow Wales to get in behind more often, which on paper, made sense. James was fresh off a Premier League goal against his former Red Devils and boasted arguably the fastest sprint speed at the tournament. However, Moore’s impact through strength, size and technicality was drastically needed otherwise.
There was an argument for Page to substitute Bale for Moore instead of James to offer more pace to the Dragon’s play. Once more, it made sense. Bale is coming to the end of a monumental career and once also boasted perhaps the fastest’s legs at the tournament. But eight years on from that spectacular goal against Barcelona’s Marc Bartra and the now Los Angeles winger looked tired.
But that’s simply the thing about Bale. Perhaps he is looking run down, in need of a golf trip or two, but the man who’s won four La Liga titles, five Champions League’s and was once the most expensive player in the world, always delivers. Page could’ve kept some younger legs on the pitch. Or he could’ve kept legs on the pitch that repeatedly make history and know what it takes to do so.
Neco Williams played brilliantly for Wales despite his horrific personal circumstances. Just 24 hours before kicking off arguably the biggest moment of his career, Williams’ mum called to tell him his grandfather had died. Tears flushed down the 21-year-olds face at full-time as teammates consoled the current Nottingham Forest defender.
Christian Pulisic put on one of the best performances for Gregg Berhalter USA despite his poor form for Chelsea in the Premier League. For Weah’s goal, the former Borussia Dortmund man collected the ball in the centre of the pitch and darted forward. After dribbling past the Welsh midfield, Pulisic drew Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon out of position and slotted Weah through with heaps of space. Williams tried to track the Lille striker but wasn’t quick enough as the ball was slotted into the bottom-right corner.
Wales could’ve converted two headed goals from Ben Davies and Moore himself. The US initially failed to clear Harry Wilson’s cross to give Davies a glaring opportunity. Had it not been for the heroics of Matt Turner, the Tottenham Hotspur man could’ve made history for his country. Moore then towered above everyone for a corner and had a great chance to header it into the far corner but his effort was glanced just over the bar.Embed from Getty Images
The US came close to opening the game prior to Weah’s goal when Norwich City forward Josh Sargent hit the post with a headed effort. Antonee Robinson delivered the perfect cross for his striker but it couldn’t be converted. The attempt came soon after Mepham almost scored an own goal himself whilst trying to defend Weah’s cross, forcing Hennessey into a reaction save.
Bale was supposed to wear the “OneLove” armband for his World Cup opener but his country pulled out of the scheme after the FIFA warned countries of a sporting punishment as a consequence. Former Wales women’s captain, Laura McAllister was also horrifically told to remove a rainbow bucket hat upon entering the Stadium.