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Stepping out onto the world stage for the first time in 64 years, Bale led the Welsh team out in Qatar looking to make history. Perhaps overawed by the occasion, the Dragons were far from roaring in a miserable first half display, with Rob Page grateful to get his players in at the break only trailing by one. Inside the first 10 minutes, Wayne Hennessey reacted well to hand Joe Rodon a reprieve after the centre-back fired Timothy Weah’s cross towards his own goal at speed.
It had been a while in coming, but the USA finally broke the deadlock as HT approached after a piece of quality from Christian Pulisic. The Chelsea winger skipped past Rodon before slotting in Weah, who produced a brilliant finish with the outside of his foot to beat Hennessey. Wales’ problems were clear, holding just 33% ball possession while failing to register a single shot on target, with the Americans’ pressing style paying dividends before the break.
Kieffer Moore’s introduction at the break signalled a change in the Welsh intent. Pressing from the front with increased confidence on the ball was forcing mistakes from the USA and earning the Dragons territory. Chances remained hard to come by until the hour mark, when a couple of headed efforts nearly restored parity in front of the Red Wall. First, Ben Davies forced a great save from Matt Turner before Moore headed over from the resulting corner.
With opportunities drying up, hopes of a successful Welsh comeback appeared to be fading, until their inspirational captain stepped up once more. With the USA caught sleeping from a quickly taken throw-in, Bale nipped ahead of Tim Ream and was forcefully challenged by the defender inside the area. There was little doubting the awarding of the penalty, or indeed the man to take it, as Bale stepped up and dispatched his country’s first goal at the World Cup since 1958. A crucial goal on his 109th cap – the joint-most in Wales history – keeps Group B wide open after England’s earlier destruction of Iran.