Wales’ all-time top scorer and talisman Gareth Bale scored a late penalty as the Welsh rallied in the second half to secure a 1-1 draw with the United States in an enthralling World Cup Group B clash at a raucous Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Monday.
It was the proverbial game of two halves as the US went into the break with a deserved 1-0 advantage handed to them following a superb finish by Timothy Weah, the son of former World Player of the Year and current Liberia president George.
But a switch in tactics by Wales at the break to introduce target man forward Kieffer Moore changed the game and brought them back into the contest, allowing Bale to score the 82nd minute penalty he had earned after being fouled himself.
The match was played in a fantastic atmosphere. Forget the valleys, the Welsh fans were drowning out Al Rayyan but met their match in the typically vocal United States supporters, whose drum barely stopped beating.
Wales were fortunate not to be behind early on when Weah’s cross deflected off a helpless Joe Rodon and hit Wayne Hennessey with the Wales goalkeeper knowing little about it. Seconds later Antonee Robinson headed wide with a good near-post opportunity.
The pattern of the first half was US possession and Wales trapped in their own half, unable to find an escape route without a recognised number nine to hold up the ball.
Instead Bale and Dan James alternated down the middle with little joy and whenever Wales cleared the ball it came straight back. The pressure finally took its toll after 36 minutes.
Christian Pulisic picked up the ball just inside the Welsh half and surged forward, spotting the clever run of Weah and providing a superbly weighted pass that was expertly finished by the winger as he slipped his shot past Hennessey.
Wales manager Rob Page made the key change at halftime when he replaced the ineffective James with the tall and muscular Moore, who was exactly what they had been missing in the opening period. It was, suddenly, a different ball game.
Wales were able to apply pressure at the other end and went close twice in quick succession. First Ben Davies forced a superb stop from goalkeeper Matt Turner before Moore headed the resultant corner just over with a chance he should have buried.
Wales’ pressure paid dividends as they won a penalty when Tim Ream, already on a yellow card for a cynical challenge earlier in the half, went through the back of Bale, who made no mistake from the spot as he thrashed the ball wide of Turner.