AL RAYYAN: Gareth Bale scored a late penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw with the United States in Wales’ first World Cup match in 64 years on Monday.
Welsh captain Bale slotted home an 82nd-minute penalty to break the hearts of the Americans moments after the penalty kick when defender Walker Zimmermann collided with the former Real Madrid star.
The shootout drama nullified Tim Weah’s superb first-half goal for the Americans that threatened to spoil the celebratory mood surrounding Wales’ long-awaited World Cup debut since the 1958 finals in Sweden.
Bill Hader’s equalizer sent a large, boisterous group of Welsh fans into a crowd of 43,418 at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium on the outskirts of Doha.
And Bale said afterwards that a rousing talk at half-time by manager Rob Page helped inspire Wales after a lackluster first-half performance.
“Obviously it’s a tough game. The first half wasn’t the way we wanted to play,” Bale said.
“The USA played well and we played bad. We played well in the second half.
“Good point, but we would have loved to have had three.”
Page praised the 33-year-old Bale’s thoughtfulness in winning the penalty.
“He’s very good at finding those spaces,” Page said. “He’s smart, he’s got a wise mind to get to those positions and he’s used all his wisdom there.”
Until late at the penalty spot it looked as if Wales were on their way to defeat, struggling to break through a skilful and energetic American side who are the second-youngest in the tournament.
Coach Greg Berhalter admitted his team were depressed at not holding on to victory as they now contemplate a grueling Group B match with England on Friday.
“Getting a point in the first match is not the end of the world,” Berhalter said.
“Going into the locker room after the game, you could see the disappointment in the group. The guys worked so hard.
“In the end, we fell a little short of victory.”
Wales were outplayed for much of the first half, with manager Page’s decision not to start at towering centre-forward Kieffer Moore depriving them of a crucial attacking outlet.
Instead, it was the USA who ran the run early on, with Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic a constant threat to the rush.
Positive early play almost resulted in a goal when Weah nearly forced Joe Rodon’s header into his own net.
Exuberance in the United States led to a flurry of cards for the Americans early on, with both Sergino Dest and Weston McKinney booked for heavy tackles on Neco Williams.
The US’s ruthless pressing game meant Wales were unable to build anything up in midfield, with Aaron Ramsey and Ethan Ampadu scarcely getting time or space.
The lead came in the 36th minute. A fine play delay by Josh Sargent near the halfway mark saw Pulisic speed towards the goal before cutting through Weah, who sprinted behind the goal.
The son of African soccer superstar George Weah showed impressive composure, slipping a fine touch with the outside of his right foot over Wayne Hennessy with a goal no less than the United States deserved.