The United States and Wales battled to a tough, physical 1-1 draw in their World Cup Group B opener at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Qatar on Monday night.
Timothy Weah scored a classy goal in the 36th minute to give the USA a half-time lead, but Gareth Bale scored from the penalty spot late in the second half to earn Wales an important point.
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The match was played in a fantastic atmosphere with the Welsh fans drowning out Al Rayyan, but facing the typically loud American fans, whose drums could hardly stop beating.
In a spirited opening 15 minutes, America almost opened the scoring with a Wales own goal and Josh Sargent’s header seconds apart, while Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie were booked for serious fouls.
Gregg Berhalter’s side continued to look the more dangerous of the two and opened the scoring late in the first half when Weah cleverly finished his chance from a quick counter-attack after Christian Pulisic had played him in behind the defence.
The physical play continued after the goal, with Bale and Chris Mepham seeing yellow before half-time for fouls on Yunus Musah and Pulisic.
It was a tale of two halves, with Wales manager Rob Page making a key change at half-time when he replaced the ineffective Dan James with the taller Kieffer Moore, who was exactly what the side had been missing in the opening period.
And as the game resumed in the second half, Wales forced the USA to defend for long periods, with Matt Turner having to step in in the 64th minute to force Ben Davies’ header over the bar.
“I felt like in the first half we had a lot of energy, a lot of momentum,” Weah said after the match. “And then in the second half we cut it back and Wales turned it up a bit. They started to press us, they had most of the ball and I think that’s what really hurt us in the end.”
Berhalter brought on three substitutes as the half wore on to help the USA see the match out, with Kellyn Acosta, Haji Wright and DeAndre Yedlin coming on and Musah, Dest and Sargent coming on.
With the USA on course for a massive World Cup opener, Bale pounced on Walker Zimmerman’s foul in the penalty area and fired an unstoppable spot-kick past Turner to tie the game for good despite 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time.
“To go down by a goal against a good team like the USA, we showed character, credit to the guys for coming back and getting a point,” Page said. “When we received the penalty, we knew who was doing it, one million percent.
“He’s never let us down, has he? It’s all about Bale and rightly so.”
On the American side, Zimmerman admitted his mistake in fouling Bale, but credited Wales’ all-time leading goalscorer with a professional move to put himself in top spot.
“He probably just put his foot in not for the ball, but to try to get in the way of me hitting the ball,” Zimmerman said. “So I kind of went through him and I think I still got the ball. But smart move — I wish I had seen it out of the corner of my eye.”
The United States finished with four yellow cards, the most for a team in a World Cup game since their five-game draw against Germany in 2002, while Wales were booked twice in the game.
“Wales were very direct in the second half,” Berhalter said. “They have a big team and they made it very difficult. They increased the pressure.
“But I thought the boys handled it well. We kept it until the end, it was a tough game and we left it all.”
Next up for the USA is a massive test against group leaders England on Friday, followed by a match against Iran, who lost their opener 6-2 to the Three Lions on November 29.
Looking ahead to the rest of the group stage, Weah added: “The most important thing at the World Cup is that we didn’t lose. We have to keep doing what we do best and keep working.”
This report uses information from Reuters.