Alicia Keys relevant for Wales as Gareth Bale still finds a way to call the tune at World Cup 2022

Outside the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday night, as thousands of bucket-hat clad Welsh fans and Americans draped in the stars and stripes made their way towards the ground, a band paid homage to Alicia Keys.

Bias, perhaps? The rendition went on too long to find out whether the set-list included much Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey, but it was Wales to whom the choice of song — If I Ain’t Got You — held most relevance.

For where would they be without Gareth Bale?

On one of his quietest nights in the national shirt, clearly some way off the pace, having played so little club football of late, Wales’s captain still found a way to be their difference-maker, winning the 82nd-minute penalty that earned Robert Page’s side their first World Cup point since 1958 and leaves all avenues to qualification wide open in Group B ahead of Friday’s second round of fixtures.

Bale led his team-mates in a salute at full-time of the famed travelling Red Wall, who won the anthem stakes with a typically powerful rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau that reached crescendo after crescendo, and then were scarcely silenced all night in what was a cracking atmosphere.

America’s support and their ubiquitous “USA!” chants were spread more evenly around the stadium, creating something of a home and away dynamic.

Since their takeover of France in 2016, and after missing out on Russia two years later, Wales fans have had it tough on the logistics front, packed off to Azerbaijan and shut out of Covid-locked Italy during the Euro 2020 group stage. Even with the various unwelcoming aspects of Qatar, many did not want to miss out here.

There were parallels with last summer’s Euros opener in Baku, when Page’s men were the inferior side against Switzerland but escaped with the point needed to get their campaign rolling.

For 45 minutes here, the USA were the dominant force, the ignorance of youth, perhaps, allowing their XI of World Cup debutants to seize the occasion best against a cautious Wales side who were in the same boat but less sure of themselves.

Timothy Weah, son of legendary Ballon d’Or winner and now president of Liberia, George, opened the scoring, having already almost forced an own-goal from Joe Rodon with a sensational piece of control and delivery on the run.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Darting in off the right, the 22-year-old latched on to Christian Pulisic’s perfectly-timed pass and slid past the onrushing Wayne Hennessey, becoming the first player to score against Wales at a World Cup since Pele.

Against the Swiss in Baku, it was Kieffer Moore’s header that salvaged a 1-1 draw and, surprisingly left out of the starting line-up here, it was the Bournemouth forward’s introduction at the interval that changed the game, giving Wales the focal point they had lacked.

Moore — who, enjoyably, given the opposition, is the spit of Oz from teen flick American Pie — fired Wales into life against the USA’s youngsters, linking with Bale and Aaron Ramsey and glancing just over from Harry Wilson’s corner.

It was one of the States’ old hands, though, who cost them dear, Walker Zimmermann diving in on Bale, who slammed the spot-kick past Arsenal’s new recruit Matt Turner.

Bale had played less than half-an-hour of football since the last international break, but managed to last the duration here, which was saying something, given another bumper period of stoppage time meant the final whistle did not come until bang on midnight here.

Neither side looked particularly thrilled with the extra nine minutes, particularly Wales, with midfield bodies falling like flies with cramp. The USA, likewise wary of the consequences of an opening defeat, did not go all out in trying to take advantage.

“Some people want it all,” the band had sung, but a draw was hardly a disaster for either side.