is this real life? Is this just a fantasy? Those were the perfect words a dozen or so Welsh fans said as they jumped off a subway escalator and descended into a stadium adjacent to a 500,000 square foot shopping centre. A few days after Cafu, he donned a tricolor bucket hat that has now become synonymous with the nation, wishing Wales good luck, the kind of words that Gareth Bale would probably have thought of after his sentence after grabbing a late draw when they first appeared in a match. World Cup final tournament since 1958.
Bale spent almost the entire game on the sidelines but acted in his own divine way and, after a few deep breaths, blew the pointer with eight minutes left to cancel Timothy Weah’s beautiful first-half opener.
This was a game in which, after England’s defeat of Iran, Gareth Southgate’s side was ready to leave Group B and Wales seemed to be out of the equation for a very long time. They came all the way back to Weah’s goal thanks to a great run by Christian Pulisic. But this is his 109th appearance for his country, Bale’s ability to surrender in big moments and has given Wales the strength to stand up after falling into the box. From a Welsh perspective, the dynamic of this game has changed not because of Bale, but because of the arrival at halftime of Kieffer Moore, who was surprisingly left out of Rob Page’s starting line-up.
In the beginning, there was unfiltered enthusiasm in Wales, which made its debut on the world stage in 64 years. Bale chewed some gum, licked his lips, and took a sip of water before pulling Wales out of the tunnel.
For the fans, the little things set in motion something much bigger: from the starting line-up being read aloud half an hour before kick-off – predictably, the biggest cheer got Bale’s name – the pre-match bubbling alongside an oversized World Cup. the cup that occupies the middle circle up to its pyrotechnic image.
Connor Roberts couldn’t help smiling during a typical Welsh national anthem, and eventually every Welsh player turned to applaud the nearly 3,000-strong Red Wall, which proudly displayed advertisements for Brecon, Flint Town FC and Wrexham.
Wales’ pre-match optimism was somewhat quelled at halftime with the USA rightfully leading thanks to Weah’s cold finish. Wales escaped a scare at the ninth minute as Wayne Hennessey instinctively repulsed Joe Rodon’s header to save the defender from the embarrassment of scoring an own goal after Weah passed from the right, and seconds later the USA advanced from the left, resulting in Norwich striker Josh Sargent. He’s walking towards a pole.
Formed 3-5-2, Wales struggled to get out of their field – Ben Davies’ first notable attack resulting in a corner opening came in the 44th minute – and Pulisic then conceded when he ran up the field. Halfway through, he locks into Sargent’s lovely vacation. The Chelsea striker did a light job ditching three Welsh jerseys before slipping away from Hennessey’s side in Weah, who calmly kicked the ball.
Pulisic displayed a kind of vitality that his rivals lacked. On the verge of the first half, Chris Mepham attempted to rip Pulisic’s number 10 player from the back of his shirt, earning him a yellow card for pleasure. USA head coach Gregg Berhalter encouraged his players to maintain their intensity and aggression, even if it sometimes overpowered them.
Aaron Ramsey’s Juventus co-star Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie were reprimanded for roughly challenging Neco Williams within seconds, and Pulisic was soon telling Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim to relax after Tyler Adams was appointed captain . Last week, he escaped punishment for a late fight at Ramsey.
Given Wales’ passive approach in the first half, a rethink seemed inevitable, and it was not surprising that Page occasionally turned to Bournemouth’s rising forward Moore, who played out of the league six years ago. Moore is the only real Number 9 in the Wales squad and gives this team a focus they wouldn’t have otherwise.
It was not surprising, then, that a few minutes after the second half, a Moore intervention simultaneously revived the Wales fans and brought their teammates to life in red. Davies’ header forced Matt Turner to a widening save less than an hour later, and from the next corner Moore took a free header into the front post.
Moore gave Wales a nice boost and Brennan Johnson came from the bench with just over 10 minutes to play, but Wales struggled to get into their opponents. While Pulisic was bright for the USA, it was pretty quiet until Wales’ man to turn to, US centre-back Walker Zimmerman, rattled inside the box.
Bale made no mistakes from then on, and deep into the nine-minute grace period, he even felt an unexpected winner, ending up to shoot halfway as Turner sprinted from his goal before falling. To be fair, he had promised to savor the moment.