The opening game for Wales and the USA in this World Cup was billed as the possible deciding match in Group B, determining who would likely finish behind England to qualify for the Group of 16.
A 1-1 draw, however, left the group wide open.
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“The most important thing was that we didn’t lose,” said US striker Timothy Weah.
President Joe Biden had described the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, as the “underdogs” in this match. This bemused many in Wales, a nation of a little more than three million that is playing in its first World Cup since 1958.
Football is, as the old cliche goes, a game of two halves. The first period of this match was a frantic, frenetic affair, with neither team settling, the USA pressing high, and Wales scrabbling to make passes. Breathless stuff.
“We could have been braver in the first half,” Wales Coach Rob Page said after the game.
The USA’s Josh Sargent stunned a header into the post in the 10th minute, converting Antonee Robinson’s cross, setting the pace for the opening period.
After 35 minutes in which the Stars and Stripes largely had the upper hand, Timothy Weah — son of former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberian President George Weah — put his side ahead with a neat finish, supplied by “Captain America” Christian Pulisic.
It was no less than they deserved; their advanced pitch position and the telltale energy of a team with an average age in the mid-20s causing no end of problems for Wales.
And then came the second half. Kieffer Moore was brought on for Daniel James, and the game changed.
“It was nothing against Daniel James, it just suited Kieffer to get us up the pitch,” Wales Manager Rob Page said after the game. “It made a big difference, it was tactical.”
The Welsh wing backs pushed further, acting as midfielders, allowing the midfield to press higher still. Concerted pressure from about the 58th minute gave Wales some momentum; by the 64th minute, Ben Davies was able to make a headed shot, tipped over the bar for a corner. The ensuing delivery gave Kieffer Moore the best chance of the game, but was ultimately fruitless.
Wales made the most of their veterans to calm the nerves and continue to wind up the pressure on the USA back line. Eventually, the cracks showed. An 81st-minute cross into Wales talisman Gareth Bale in the box, a more-than-clumsy attempted tackle by Walker Zimmerman, and the referee pointing to the spot.
Bale rarely misses penalties, and he smashed the ball to the left of US goalkeeper Matt Turner for his 41st goal in 109 matches in a Wales shirt, salvaging a point for his nation in its first World Cup match since 1958.
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Nine minutes of added time resulted in a tense, nervy end to the match that ended 1-1.
“It wasn’t a good first half to be honest, but we had a talk from the gaffer at half-time and came out fighting in the second half,” said Wales captain Gareth Bale.
“We showed character — like we did in the Euros — and we go again … We have to dig deep for our country – we always do.”
The official attendance figure of 43,418 was more than the official capacity of the stadium, while there were many empty seats for much of the first half at least, and scenes of ticketing chaos were reported outside.
“We showed character and determination to get a point out of the game,” Wales Manager Rob Page told ITV Sport after the game. “It’s important at the start of a tournament not to lose a game.”
The draw means both the USA and Wales will be desperate to make a big impact in their games against Iran, with Wales up first against Team Melli on Friday, while the USA takes on England, with the fixtures reversed the following Tuesday in the final group stage games.