Gareth Bale clutched a point from the jaws of defeat for Wales, securing a 1 -1 draw against the USA
Wales salvaged a 1-1 draw from their opening World Cup match against the USA on Monday night.
A first match on the biggest stage of all in 64 years got off to a difficult start as Wales were completely outplayed in the first half, with the USA taking a deserved lead through Timothy Weah.
But tactical alterations at half time brought more joy in the second period and they drew level when Gareth Bale slotted home an 82nd minute penalty.
It was a nervous start for Robert Page’s side, with the States controlling the opening 10 minutes. And Joe Rodon’s blushes were spared when his wayward header cannoned off the chest of Wayne Hennessey, preventing a certain own-goal, not that the goalkeeper knew anything about it.
Moments later, the USA hit the post.
“They look a bit shellshocked, Wales,” said ITV co-commentator John Hartson.
Sergino Dest and Weston McKinnie were then booked for fouls on Neco Williams.
The first half hour of the match was cagey as a game of cat and mouse ensued. Wales desperately tried to play their way out from the back but the States did an exemplary job of containing them.
Wales’ front three of Bale, Daniel James and Harry Wilson were largely reduced to bystanders as Aaron Ramsey struggled to influence proceedings.
The deadlock was broken in the 35th minute and, in truth, it had been coming since the first. Wales cracked and Christian Pulisic surged through the middle of the field, sliding the ball through for Weah to poke it beyond the onrushing Hennessey and give his side a deserved lead.
To cap a dismal first half, Bale was then booked for a tackle on Yunus Musah and the Americans led 1-0 at the break, leaving Wales manager Page with much to ponder.
He decided to throw on Bournemouth striker Kieffer Moore at the break and Wales developed a foothold in the game but as the hour mark approached, the men in red had mustered just two shots on goal and neither were on target.
The half time tweak gave Wales a fresh impetus and the USA looked far more unsettled. They failed to clear a free-kick and Ben Davies’ diving header was tipped over by Matt Turner. From the corner that followed, Moore’s header skimmed paint off the top of the cross bar as it whizzed agonisingly above its intended target.
Red Dragons had their tails up but the US appeared to weather the storm and Wales’ momentum fizzled.
Then came the lifeline. Walker Zimmerman brought Bale down inside the box and referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim pointed to the spot. Up stepped the Welsh captain to blast the ball beyond Turner in the 81st minute to bring his side level.
There would be little else to report but a point will be viewed as a disaster averted by Page but Wales now head into the game against Iran on Friday looking for three points.
And we're level!
Wales manager Rob Page opted to leave in-form Bournemouth striker Kieffer Moore on the bench, with captain Gareth Bale selected up front, flanked by Harry Wilson and Daniel James.
With Joe Allen missing through injury, the rest of the side was as expected, with Wayne Hennessey preferred over Danny Ward in goal.
USA XI: Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams (C), Musah; Weah, McKennie, Pulisic; Sargent.
Subs: Horvath, S. Johnson, Reyna, Ferreira, Aaronson, De La Torre, Long, Morris, Roldan, S. Moore, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Yedlin, Acosta, Scally
Welsh supporters say they had their rainbow bucket hats confiscated, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, on their way into the ground.
Qatar has received strong criticism in the build-up to the tournament over their treatment of the community.
Former Welsh footballer Laura McAllister says she was told to remove her rainbow bucket hat before she could enter the stadium.
Stadium officials told the 57-year-old that the hat represented a "banned symbol", she said, and that she would have to exit the stadium and drop it off outside.
FIFA wants participating nations to focus on football at the World Cup, despite concerns over attitudes towards LGBTQ fans and the treatment of migrant workers.
Ms McAlister added: "I managed to sneak it in, and who knows I might even wear it during the game."
American journalist Grant Wahl tweeted that he was detained by the Qatari authorities as he tried to enter the Al Rayyan Stadium in a rainbow t-shirt.
He has since been released and allowed into the ground, still wearing the top.
It comes as Wales' Gareth Bale and England's Harry Kane were told not to wear an armband expressing solidarity with LGBT+ people during World Cup games.
Fans groups and activists have slammed the last-minute decision, saying it has "shown the FIFA's true colours".
Kane and Bale were due to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband throughout the tournament in Qatar, a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised.
A joint statement from the six football associations, issued on Monday morning, said: “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play.“ As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games."