Wales’ Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring his side’s goal against the USA in their World Cup match. Photo / AP
Gareth Bale converted a penalty kick in the 82nd minute to offset Tim Weah’s first-half goal and give Wales a 1-1 draw in the return to the World Cup for both nations.
Weah, a son of former Fifa Player of the Year and current Liberian President George Weah, scored after a pass from Christian Pulisic in the 36th minute.
Back in the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament, the United States appeared headed for victory. But Walker Zimmerman plowed down Bale from behind with the Welsh star’s back to the goal, and referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim, of Qatar, pointed to the penalty spot.
Bale put his kick to the left of goalkeeper Matt Turner’s outstretched arm for his 41st goal in 109 international appearances, salvaging a point for Wales in its first World Cup match since 1958.
Next up for the United States is a high-profile matchup against England on Saturday (NZT), the same day Wales faces Iran. England opened Group B with a 6-2 rout of the Iranians earlier in the day.
Tim Weah, just 22, was part of a new-look American team that is the second-youngest in the tournament.
Pulisic, the top American player and one of the few holdovers from the 2017 qualifying failure, burst up the middle of the field in a move that led to the goal. Weah timed his run perfectly as Pulisic passed ahead, breaking in front of Neco Williams.
From near the penalty area, Weah used the side of his right foot to poke the ball over the left thigh of sliding goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey for his fourth goal in 26 international appearances.
Weah ran towards the American fans with arms extended and slid on both knees. He was mobbed by teammates, then raised both hands skyward and blew a kiss to the heavens.
His father, the legendary George Weah, who never played in a World Cup, planned to be at the game.
Thousands of supporters in the Red Wall filled one end of the lower bowl and sang throughout.
In the 750th international match in United States history, the Americans started a record 10 players from European clubs, with only Zimmerman from Major League Soccer. DeAndre Yedlin, who entered in the 74th minute, was the only American player with previous World Cup experience.
Josh Sargent nearly put the Americans ahead in the 10th minute when he hit the post with a header from Antonee Robinson’s cross. Ben Davies’ header in the 64th minute was pushed over the crossbar by a leaping Turner.
The match was played in the Arabian desert west of Doha at the rebuilt Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, lit in brilliant colors and featuring an exterior facade meant to replicate undulating sand dunes.
Three Americans picked up yellow cards for rough tackles and would be suspended if assessed otherwise: Sergiño Dest, Weston McKennie and Tim Ream.
Turner and Zimmerman played their first competitive matches in a month and McKennie — with newly dyed red, white and blue hair — his first since three weeks. Ream was paired with Zimmerman in central defense, his first international appearance in 14 months.
For Wales, Hennessey played only his second match since late September and Bale made his second start in two months.
Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Yusuf Musah were 11 years old the last time the United States took the field in a World Cup match. On the 3,066th day after that loss in Brazil, the Americans returned to football’s showcase with a new-look team dreaming lofty goals and hoping for actual ones.
Filled with novelty, nerves and naivety, these young Americans take the field against Wales on Monday night in a match a growing fanbase back home has been pining for since 2014.
“Three years, four years of just working up to this moment, I think all the guys are ready to go,” midfielder Weston McKennie said.
President Joe Biden called players to offer encouragement ahead of the opener.
A Friday match against England follows and group play ends Nov. 29 against Iran, which famously eliminated the US from the 1998 World Cup in France.
Only DeAndre Yedlin, a 29-year-old defender, remains from the American team eliminated by Belgium in the second round eight years ago. Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta and Tim Ream are among just four holdovers from the group that flopped to the field in anguish after the crushing loss at Trinidad in CONCACAF qualifying in October 2017 that ended the streak of US World Cup appearances at seven.
McKennie debuted a month later in a 1-1 friendly draw at Portugal alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tyler Adams, who was appointed captain Sunday at age 23.
A total of 118 players were tried over 68 matches in a World Cup cycle interrupted by a pandemic, including 91 after Gregg Berhalter was hired as coach in December 2018. He gave debuts to 56 players and took the second-youngest roster to the tournament at an average age of just over 25 years, older than only Ghana.
Some are already looking ahead four years, to when the US co-hosts the tournament and the core group figures to be in their prime.
“We want to build a ton of momentum going into 2026, but it all starts now,” Berhalter said.
Berhalter becomes the first American to play and coach at a World Cup — his 50th minute shot from Claudio Reyna’s corner kick struck German defender Torsten Frings’ arm on the goal line but was not called a hand ball in 2002′s 1-0 quarterfinal loss .
“I was in my mum’s belly,” quipped Gio Reyna, Claudio’s son, who was born that November.
Berhalter has installed a high-pressing style and led the Americans to a 36-10-10 record that included titles in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League.
“The final determination of this group,” he said, “will be at the World Cup. That’s how generations are measured. We can all be talking — that’s great, we beat Mexico three times. Or we won the Gold Cup or the Nations League. But the real measuring stick for this group is certainly going to be how you perform in Qatar.”
Wales is back in the World Cup for the first time since 1958, led by 33-year-old Gareth Bale and 31-year-old Aaron Ramsey but without injured midfielder Joe Allen. The Dragons advanced to the 2016 European Championship semifinals before losing to eventual champion Portugal and made it to the second round of last year’s Euros before a 4-0 wipeout against Denmark. The lack of World Cup experience has the Welsh as guarded as the Americans heading into the match at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, a renovated 44,000-seat venue west of the capital.
“They’re a good young squad and have some fantastic players,” Bale said. “We’re under no illusions that they’re here to win the game just as we are, so we know it’s going to be a difficult match tomorrow and I’m sure they know the same thing, too.”
With Miles Robinson and Chris Richards injured, the American central defense will start a pair from among Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Carter-Vickers or 35-year-old Tim Ream, back on the national team for the first time in 14 months.
“Tim’s the grandpa of the group,” Adams said.
Right back Sergiño Dest and McKennie are fit enough to play, but perhaps not enough to start.
Forward, a position that produced just three goals in qualifying, is also uncertain for the US Josh Sargent, Jesús Ferreira and Haji Wright are the choices.
Following Berhalter’s surprising decision to drop Zack Steffen, Matt Turner will likely start in goal over Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson. Turner has been limited to four Europa League matches in his first season with Arsenal, last Oct. 20.
“I showed the coaching staff here how much I’ve grown as a person and a player,” Turner said.
Pulisic also has struggled for playing time, getting just five starts for Chelsea this season. Dest made only two starts for AC Milan.
As the opener approached, Pulisic recalled gathering for World Cup games in the basement of his home in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and watching Landon Donovan score the injury-time goal that beat Algeria in 2010 to earn advancement.
“The family coming together, wearing all our red, white and blue, just getting excited,” Pulisic said. “It was always a dream of mine. I wanted to be there so bad. But now to be here as a part of this team actually at the World Cup, it’s special. And, yeah, I don’t want to take a moment of this for granted.”