USA 1 – 1 Wales
(Group B, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, 21/11/2022)
Wales were appearing in the World Cup for the first time since 1958. That alone had put their fans into a celebratory mood. Pre-match they sang their hearts out ramping up the atmosphere. Their gusto matched what everyone has come to expect from their team – great commitment and much passion with each player prepared to run until they drop.
Christian Pulisic started for the USA (FIFA raking: 16), Ethan Ampadu started for Wales (FIFA ranking: 19). Timothy Weah, the son of George Weah, also started for the USA
The game started at a high tempo. The Americans dominated from the start, looking much quicker and sharper on the ball than the Welsh. Wales struggled to get out of their own half, the lack of an out-and-out forward denying them the out ball to someone who could hold the ball up and bring other players into the game. Wales survived the pressure largely as the Americans’ dominance hadn’t resulted in many obvious, clear-cut chances. That changed when Weah’s cross cannoned off Rodon and then Hennessey (an instinctive save he probably knew little about). An own goal thus prevented. The ball immediately broke to Robinson. His run and cross found Norwich’s Sargent whose header hit the outside of the post. The Americans were all playing well, the team playing with great fluidity. That the USA would score seemed inevitable. On the few occasions when Wales threatened to break free it was down their left wing. In a brief spell where it looked as if Wales might get back into the game, runs from James and Williams were ended by rugged challenges from Dent and McKennie respectively, both players receiving a yellow card.
The USA eventually scored after 35 minutes. Rodon ventured too far forward and was left stranded in midfield when Wales lost the ball. The ball fell to Pulisic who ran into the space left by Rodon heading, largely unchallenged, directly towards the D. His through ball found Weah away from the last defender. His well-timed run allowed Weah to slip the ball past Hennessey with the outside of his right foot. A cool finish.
The most notable Welsh effort came from Ampadu, a powerful long range drive that flew over the bar. Wales must have been relieved to go in only one down – a score that flattered them a little. The Americans would have been disappointed not to have more to show from their dominance.
The tactical substitution of Moore for James completely changed the complexion of the game leading to the proverbial game of two halves. Moore’s directness and all-round play worried the USA defence. Moore provided a focus for Welsh attacks as they gained more and more possession. The backs, especially Williams, pushed forward at every opportunity. Despite all the pressure, the final ball didn’t quite seem to be there and it was hard to see where an equalizer might come from.
Ramsay won a corner which Turner dropped resulting in a bit of a goalmouth scramble. The Americans were relying on breakaways one of which led to a penalty claim for a foul on Pulisic by Roberts. The referee was correct in judging that Roberts had played the ball first, so nothing given. A run down the right by Roberts was ended by a Musah foul for which the player received a yellow card. The resultant free kick led to another scramble that ended with Turner pushing a diving header from Davies over the bar. A goal maybe if the header had not been straight at the keeper, but Davies had done well to make the effort. Moore put a near post header just over from the subsequent corner.
Wales were not about to give up and the equalizer came seemingly out of nowhere. A quick throw-in on the right was taken by Johnson. Ramsay was alert to it and played the ball into the area towards Bale. Zimmerman clattered into the back of Bale. Penalty – no doubt whatsoever. Bale leathered the ball and buried it. Turner went the right way and looked to have got his fingertips to it but he was never keeping it out. Cue commentator outpourings about Bale’s talismanic genius – in truth he had been noticeably below his best (but his presence alone probably inspired the team).
Not much time left, but if any team was going on to win the game it looked as if it would be Wales. Roberts cleared to reach Moore on the right about halfway. His back-heel ran into Johnson’s path. He sprinted clear of the defenders but shot straight into Turner’s arms. The later stages of the game saw several USA players go down injured. Gamesmanship or game management? Nine additional minutes to be played. That time had already elapsed when a long ball down the middle saw Turner come well out of his area to head clear. The ball fell to Bale who shaped up to lob over the retreating goalkeeper. From near the centre circle, it might have been a great goal. We will never know as, before he could strike the ball, Bale was fouled by Acosta – another yellow card. The ensuing free kick was overhit, caught by Turner and cleared. The game ended.
An exciting and enjoyable game in which the pace barely dropped throughout. As they say, a draw was probably a fair result.
Ampadu and Pulisic both played well. Ampadu is a versatile and energetic player equally at ease at the back or, as tonight, in midfield. He protected the defenders well when the team was under pressure in the first half covering the backs when they went forward in the second also getting further forward himself in the later stages. Unfortunately, after hitting a crunching tackle late on, he went don looking quite seriously hurt. He got up after a while but struggled in the last minutes. Hopefully the injury is not serious and he recovers quickly. Many have been impressed by him in his rare appearances for Chelsea and feel he deserved to get a better opportunity. That chance may yet come. Pulisic played better than might have been expected from his recent domestic form. However, it’s not unusual for a player to perform better for their national team than they do at club level.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie