The first two matches in Group B at the Qatar World Cup were both absolutely thrilling affairs. England staked their claim as one of the favourites to win the whole thing with an absolute 6-2 battering of Iran, humbling them and putting pressure on the other teams to match their heroics.
The real pressure was on their fellow teams in Group B, Wales and the USA to catch up to the runaway Three Lions.
With England looking likely to win the group and Iran nowhere near ready for that jump yet, the general consensus is that it’ll be either Wales or the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to accompany England into the Round of 16.
That is why both teams were really pushing to win their opening game and put a dent in the dreams of their opposition side.
Surprisingly, it was the USA side that really had a chokehold on the game from the get-go.
After arguably being the better side in the first half, the USMNT took the lead in the 36th minute after Timothy Weah (the son of iconic forward George Weah) smartly grabbed onto Christian Pulisic’s through ball and scored past the onrushing Wayne Hennessey.
It was, incidentally, their only shot on goal for the entire half (and eventually the entire game) – but Weah’s clinical work helped them get themselves in a vital position heading into the second half.
Wales looked in disarray. Their attacking moves weren’t working, they were being constantly frustrated by USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner and Gareth Bale was being marked out of the game by a number of different players.
But the Welsh were not going down that easily. Having thousands of fans cheering them on from the stands after qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, the players did not want to make it a night to forget.
Bale, to his credit, did not let the frustrating man-marking and his inability to properly get involved in the game hurt him.
Instead, he did his job as the national team captain and ensured his fellow teammates never lost hope of getting a result from the game.
The 33-year-old said ‘I’ll do it myself’ as he won the penalty for his side in the 80th minute and went on to convert it with ease, putting a thunderous shot past Arsenal goalkeeper Turner.
It also marked his first-ever World Cup goal, helping him add another feather to his illustrious career.
Towards the end of the game, just as it looked like the Welsh players were starting to lose their hope and energy levels, the LAFC star gave inspiration to his closet ones.
The on-field cameras caught the rallying cry which Bale gave to his teammates towards the end of the game.
He was heard saying: “Just keep running, I know you’re tired, but you’ve just got to f****** do it…”
This happened after his equalizer in the 82nd minute and just minutes before the unusually high 9 minutes of added time was announced.
This was an order from captain Bale, who did not want to see his side concede a late goal that would undo all their good work in the second half.
To his credit, Bale did manage to give his teammates a late shot in the arm needed to see out the result that still keeps their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages alive and well.