But after Timothy Weah, whose father is the legendary Ballon d’Or winner George, had put the US ahead during a dominant first-half, Bale, inevitably, rode to Wales’ rescue, his late penalty earning a 1-1 draw that sets up Group B nicely - and suits England down to the ground.
A youthful, exciting US side impressed on their return to the World Cup after missing out in Russia in 2018. For Wales, the gap had been much longer, all of 64 years, and in a game contested between XIs made up entirely of World Cup debutants, it was Robert Page’s men who looked inhibited by the occasion, though the manager must take his share of the blame for the initial exclusion of Kieffer Moore, whose half-time introduction changed the complexity of the game.
In the first-half, set out in a 3-5-2 that was swiftly pinned back into a 5-3-2, Wales took until the 44th-minute to muster their first meaningful attack, a corner won by Aaron Ramsey and flicked well wide off the head of Ben Davies.
By then they trailed, to a goal expertly finished by Weah - the first player to score a World Cup goal against Wales since Pele in 1958 - but made by Christian Pulisic, who pierced through Wales’ midfield with a driving run and then timed his pass perfectly to split the defence open, too. Since his teenage years, Pulisic has had thrust upon him and struggled to justify the kind of talismanic status Bale has, with so many clutch performances, well earned. Here, though, he took the game to a passive Wales while Bale, short on recent minutes, struggled to have any influence.
Only after Moore’s arrival gave them something to work off did both Bale and Aaron Ramsey show glimpses of their class, while the Bournemouth forward himself went close with a header from Harry Wilson’s corner. He must surely start on Friday, against an Iran side whose deep backline ought to render Dan James’ pace in behind even more obsolete than it was here.
Ramsey’s craft made the leveller, his pull-back finding Bale, who was wiped out by Walker Zimmerman, the only member of America’s starting lineup to play in MLS.
Bale was made to wait an age to take the spot-kick, but has done plenty of that - and did not let the moment pass by.