FIFA World Cup: LAFC's Gareth Bale Scores Tie Goal For Wales In Crucial Opening Match With US
The U.S. men's national team's first appearance in the FIFA World Cup, a crucial opening match against Wales, has ended in a 1-1 tie, complicating U.S. hopes of emerging from the group stage.
The outcome was something of a disappointment after the U.S. had shown flashes of greatness in a dominant first half.
The first goal of the team's World Cup campaign came in the 36th minute, as U.S. winger Christian Pulisic fed a breakaway ball to Timothy Weah, who flicked it in just ahead of the outstretched foot of Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey as the U.S.-friendly crowd roared.
The young U.S. squad controlled much of the early game at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, besting Wales in time of possession. It narrowly missed an earlier goal in a chaotic sequence where a near Wales own-goal turned into a chance for forward Josh Sargent, whose header went just wide of the post.
But Wales came alive in the second half, pressing hard on the U.S. defense. Keeper Matt Turner worked to keep Wales from finding the net with a series of highlight reel saves.
And a key blunder came late in the game by U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman, who fouled Wales captain Gareth Bale in the box, gifting him a penalty kick. Bale knocked in the equalizer to bring the game to a tie at 1-1 in the 82nd minute.
Wales captain Gareth Bale also plays striker for LAFC.
He has a knack for scoring crucial goals — with time running out in the MLS Cup against the Philadelphia Union, he scored a game-tying goal that kept LAFC in the match and led to their championship victory.
Monday's draw leaves the U.S. and Wales each with 1 point in the tally that will determine whether they make it to the knockout round. England's win over Iran has them ahead with 3.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. has returned to the tournament with a fresh look: All but one of the 26 players on the roster have never played in a World Cup game before today, and the team is one of the youngest squads in the entire event.
The U.S. has turned to its young stars who have honed their skills playing in high-level European leagues – including Pulisic, the 24-year-old phenom winger with Chelsea, and team captain Tyler Adams, the 23-year-old midfielder for Leeds United.
Monday's opponent Wales has been out of the World Cup for even longer – this year is its first appearance since 1958. But the team's performance in recent years, under the leadership of Bale, has impressed many. At #19, it is ranked just three spots behind the U.S.
It was the first meeting of Wales and the U.S. in a World Cup match. Both teams saw today as a critical match to win in their difficult road out of the competitive Group B. (No other group has a higher average FIFA ranking than Group B at 15, led by England, a favorite to win the entire tournament.)
Any first World Cup game is already important for both teams – since 1998, 84% of teams who win their opening match are able to move on from the group stage.
But with England looking dominant in their 6-2 victory, it appears to be a near-lock to leave the group – leaving Wales, the U.S. and Iran all jockeying for the second spot.
The U.S. team's next chance is on Friday: a marquee matchup with England set for 2 p.m. Eastern time.