It had always been a leap of faith to assume that Gareth Bale, a player who had started two football matches in the last six months, could lead Wales to glory in this tournament, fueled only by emotional energy and patriotism.
For 80 long minutes last night, football didn’t work that way. The sets did not show up. A cold and punishing reality came into play. And then, after a strategic change at halftime that helped his team get back into the game, a great moment presented itself. Perhaps, Bale muses, one day, the greatest he has known in this sport. He straddled the ball to take the penalty his resurgent team had won, driving on his run and crashing the shot, to the goalkeeper’s right, leaving Wales to battle another day.
He ran delirious along the billboard, imploring the red wall of fans to cheer on the team, and his name echoed throughout this stadium. But while he will grab the headlines today, Wales have a more visceral and less cultivated member of this team to thank for this lifeline.
Gareth Bale leveled the game for Wales with a late penalty, after he was brought down by Walker Zimmerman in the box.
Kieffer Moore had been held back for a torturous 45 minutes, but when he ran in his turquoise boots after half time, Wales found a balance and threat that eventually carried them into the game. The game was back within his grasp.
This is the group, now. Wales started last summer’s Euro Cup with a 1-1 draw after an unconvincing start, another game they salvaged. Now they need to beat Iran, like they did Turkey last summer. They will have hope.
The nation had been waiting for the occasion for 64 years and the importance of the moment was not lost on anyone. From Dolgellau to Doha, they wore the bucket hats that the nation’s legendary Red Wall has made its signature item. On the Metro here from the center it was Jonny Williams, Swindon Town’s League Two midfielder, they sang about.
Page had spoken of a team philosophy forged in his own Rhondda Valley. There is collectivism. Bale, Ramsey and Williams stood together and watched the stage Gary Speed spoke of as the finish 12 years ago and reached together in the twilight of their careers.
Page was not expected to start without target man Moore, although Rob Page stated that he needed pace at the top of the team’s top. “I want us to create a space to hurt the opposition.” he said. ‘To do that I need fast players up top.’
But that required class and vision in the central areas and for a tense and frankly desperate 45 minutes there was none of that for Wales. Ramsey was limited to a handful of touches, dropping to the edge of his own box to pick up the ball and start something, Harry Wilson looking mesmerized and completely lost.
This was why Page, in his own words, threw out the kitchen sink by having Joe Allen available to provide a cognitive core to his team.
Without the ability to break through the US defensive line in the remotest way, Bale and Dan James, the speed merchant, became the invisible men, lost without a trace and with 16 touches between them past average. hour. It would have helped if Wales could find some precision in their passing, but the malaise, though not what Page had anticipated after all the talk of what this means for the nation, seemed to affect the team.
It was Christian Pulisic who was able to put on a class display, powering the US through the holes in Wales’ midfield. The three-man defense who has made an article of faith was dragged out of position. There was a scare on ten minutes when Tim Weah slipped down the USA right and delivered a dangerous cross that Joe Rodon, in the box, deflected into his own net. Wayne Hennessey required snap reactions to get rid of him. In the follow-up, Pulisic crossed for Jos Sargent, who headed in against the post.
The USA had commanded 70 percent of possession when the goal came, Pulisic drove up the middle and bisected troublesome stragglers with a pass that Weah ran past and past Hennessey before Williams, running back to help, could challenge.
It was nothing short of mandatory to introduce Moore into the equation after half time and the impact, with Ramsey and Bale operating on either side of him, seriously cast doubt on the decision not to start.
It brought anxiety to the US defense and within minutes Matt Turner, jumping with Moore and Bale, was failing to charge. Moore did what he usually does, hold the ball up high and allow others to run after him.
Neco Williams started to come into play as a real threat down the right flank. Ben Davies jumped up to power in a header which Turner knocked in before Moore himself arrived to header into the roof of the.
Wales’ rearrangement put Ramsey in threatening positions and it was he who crashed on the right side of the box with ten minutes remaining and put the ball to Bale, bringing up a clumsy challenge from behind Ream and giving Bale your moment. .
Wales threatened again, when substitute Brennan Johnson stormed in and shot Turner.
But the night belonged to the King of Wales once more.
To see how the action played out, read Jake Nisse’s live Sportsmail blog.