Skip to content Skip to footer

After 64 years of waiting, Wales comes through in clutch at World Cup

Much was made of the United States missing the 2018 World Cup, and the anticipation for their first game back was almost celebratory for a nation whose love of the beautiful game has only intensified in the eight years since their last campaign in Brazil.

It was a tumultuous period for the Stars and Stripes, and one of uncertainty as they put together a new team with young talent and a new manager. In fact, it was a fight to get back, but every team has their story, and the team on the other side of the pitch has waited generations to get back to the world stage.

Wales made their first World Cup appearance in 64 years when they took the pitch against the US on Monday. Regular followers of the game will remember how they stole hearts with a memorable run to the semifinals of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament, only losing to eventual winners Portugal. That campaign was their first-ever trip to the Euros, and their first major tournament appearance since Pele sent them home from the World Cup quarterfinals in 1958.

Even casual fans will know the name Gareth Bale, a serial Champions League winner with Real Madrid and recent MLS Cup hero for LAFC. He’s been crucial to Wales’ success in recent years, and both his skill and celebrity has elevated the team on the international stage after decades of struggle.

Wales haven’t been without talent all this time, and they came close several times. Notable they were a good team in the 1980s, led by prolific Manchester United forward Mark Hughes and Liverpool’s perennial winner Ian Rush, and aided in goal by the safe hands of legendary Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall. They had some close calls, but fell painfully short of World Cup qualification in heartbreaking fashion to Iceland in both 1982 and 1986. At the same time, they were failing to qualify for the Euros until 2016. They followed up their debutante performance by making it back for 2020 tournament, and continue their run with an emotional World Cup qualification cycle that culminated with a playoff win over Ukraine. But their talented generation is nearing the end of its cycle, so they had to make this one count under manager Rob Page.

Wales are hardly tournament favorites, and they had a tough time against a determined US team. At times it looked like they should have been a couple goals down if not for some poor execution by the Americans in the final third. They adjusted well, and got an equalizer through a Gareth Bale penalty to earn a point from the match, but they very well could have earned more. A couple of heroic saves by Matt Turner kept them from equalizing sooner, and nearly all of their chances came as their opponents struggled under the lights.

In fact, despite keeping the ball and driving forward well, the US did very little in the final third, often lacking direction and/or quality playing the final pass.

The only concession the Welsh defense made was on a quick counterattack with Tim Weah running diagonally onto a Christian Pulisic through ball from midfield.

In the second half Wales went on the offensive, and created some really good chances for themselves (see above). Despite those missed chances, they wound up with an equalizer after a poor decision by Walker Zimmerman to tackle through the back of Bale. The man who values Wales above everything except golf smashed his spot kick past Turner, allowing a tense crowd of supporters a moment of celebration after 82 minutes of anxiety. Tournaments don’t always produce the best football, but they do produce lovely moments, and Wales is cherishing those moments.

The emotions were high for the fans, who have waited longer than every fanbase at the tournament to see their team qualify. It could be felt through the screen during the national anthem, as players and fans passionately belted out Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (translation: Old Land of My Fathers), which you can watch here.

Wales may only be lightly regarded outside of their country, but the collection of players will do whatever they can to seize their moments. That’s one of the beauties of football, and an underrated aspect of international tournaments. It’s a beautiful moment for a country that has so passionately loved football for so long, and cherishes the chance to live their dreams for as long as they can.

Leave a comment