Wales had waited 64 years for this day. The United States had not played a World Cup game since losing to Belgium in an enthralling knock-out game in 2014. This was an occasion that needed thousands of travelling supporters to bring their energy and singing voices, and bring it they did. Tonight was the night this World Cup finally came alive.
Both anthems were sung emphatically and for someone who has had the pleasure of listening to ‘Land of my Fathers’ at Welsh rugby games in Cardiff this was just as special. After 64 years, with just two of the squad of 1958 still alive, thousands from Wales remembered them and honoured the new team, making the trip to the Middle East to sing their hearts out and cheer on their heroes. It was supposed to feel like a big deal, and it did.
Even the Star-Spangled Banner, heard often by those of us from North America, sometimes at random games during a season in the NBA, NFL or NHL, for example, was bellowed out for the occasion. Somethings just hit different in international play, where anthems and sport are made for each other.
If the game sounded like a real match before the opening whistle, it reached even greater heights once it kicked off. The roar of excitement in reaction to something, claps of appreciation, chants, groans and whistles of discontent. It had it all. Football is never coming home to Qatar, but it certainly came home to the World Cup on this evening.
As expected, the United States were better than some thought. This was a night their best players showed up for large periods. When you have technical stars who play at the highest level like Christian Pulisic, and you have a midfield that has the intensity and intelligence of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah you should always be comfortable on the ball. As Gregg Berhalter’s side put on a passing clinic, Wales chased shadows for 45 minutes and it was almost inevitable when Pulisic received the ball centrally in his office, delivered a precise pass to Tim Weah and the striker delivered with a tremendous one-touch finish with his right foot.
If ‘Land of my Fathers’ had brought a tear to my eye what happened next did the same. There it was. The roar of a goal screaming out like a beautiful choir; a noise so familiar, yet one that felt so far away here.
Wales improved when Kieffer Moore was introduced at halftime. Once again, another team at this World Cup benefited from going more direct and winning balls in the air. Ecuador, Netherlands in the second half, and now Wales. The 2018 World Cup was full of late headed goals and this one is already showing such tendencies. Wales continued to go direct. Ben Davies’ header was well saved by Matt Turner and Moore headed the subsequent corner over the bar.
McKennie, not 100 per cent fit, needed to be replaced and was missed. The momentum swung back to Wales. It felt like a moment would fall to Gareth Bale and when a ball came near him in the box his positioning was perfect to shield the ball from a sliding Walker Zimmerman and win a penalty. Bale, inevitably, slotted home a goal 64 years in the making. Once again, Wales had not been pretty, they had not been at their best, but they had Bale and had found a way to snatch a point and take two away from the team many think will go head-to-head with them for a crucial last 16 spot.
Both teams shared the spoils and the points but it was the sport and the World Cup that was the winner in this match. It was just past midnight into Tuesday here when the final whistle went, meaning five games will actually be played on that day. When we all wake up, attention will rightfully switch to Messi, Mexico and others but we should never forget the true ignitors of this World Cup were Wales and the United States, two teams who lifted the competition from its knees to stand tall and to look and sound like exactly what it is supposed to be again.
Tomorrow’s Crystal Ball
Argentina 4, Saudi Arabia 0
Denmark 2, Tunisia 1
Mexico 1, Poland 0
France 1, Australia 1