Gareth Bale scored a late penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw against the United States in Wales’ first World Cup game in 64 years on Monday.
Welsh skipper Bale lashed home an 82nd-minute spot kick to break American hearts moments after earning the penalty when defender Walker Zimmerman crashed into the former Real Madrid star.
The penalty drama cancelled out Tim Weah’s superb first-half goal for the Americans which had threatened to ruin the celebratory mood surrounding Wales’ long-awaited first World Cup appearance since the 1958 finals in Sweden.
Bale’s equaliser triggered roars from a large and raucous contingent of Wales fans in a crowd of 43,418 fans at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on the outskirts of Doha.
Bale said afterwards a rousing half-time team talk by manager Rob Page had helped inspire Wales after a lacklustre first-half performance.
“Obviously a difficult game. First half was not how we wanted to play,” said Bale.
“The US played well and we played poorly. We played really well in the second half.
“Good point, but we would have loved to have had three.”
Page paid tribute to the 33-year-old Bale’s nous in winning the penalty.
“He’s very good at finding those spaces,” Page said. “He’s intelligent, he’s got a wise head to get in those positions and he used all his wisdom there.”
Until the late penalty it looked as if Wales were heading for a defeat, struggling to break down a skillful and energetic US squad that is the second youngest at the tournament.
Coach Gregg Berhalter admitted his team had been left dejected by failure to hang on for victory as they now contemplate a daunting Group B game with England on Friday.
“Taking a point in the first game is not the end of the world,” Berhalter said.
“Walking into the locker room after the game you could see the disappointment in the group. The guys worked hard.
“In the end we fell a little bit short of the victory.”
Wales were outplayed for long periods of the first half, with manager Page’s decision not to start towering centre-forward Kieffer Moore depriving them of a crucial attacking outlet.
Instead it was the US who made all the early running, with Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic a constant darting menace.
The positive early play almost resulted in a goal when Weah’s whipped-in cross almost forced Joe Rodon to head into his own net.
The US exuberance led to a flurry of cards for the Americans early on, with Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie both booked for wild tackles on Neco Williams.
The relentless US pressing game meant Wales were unable to construct anything in midfield, where Aaron Ramsey and Ethan Ampadu were rarely afforded time or space.
The breakthrough came on 36 minutes. Good hold-up play by Josh Sargent near halfway sent Pulisic accelerating towards goal before picking out Weah, who had darted in behind goal.
The son of African football icon George Weah showed terrific composure, dinking a cool finish with the outside of his right foot over Wayne Hennessey for a goal that was no less than the US deserved.
Wales were in disciplinary soon afterwards, Bale earning a yellow card for clattering into Yunus Musah on 40 minutes.
Chris Mepham joined the Welsh captain in the book after hauling Pulisic down near half-time.
Page brought on Moore at half-time for Daniel James and the substitution immediately started to have an effect.
Tottenham’s Ben Davies almost headed Wales level on 64 minutes but was denied by goalkeeper Matt Turner with an acrobatic parry over the bar.
Moore powered a header just over from the ensuing corner.
The US dropped deeper and Wales pressed more aggressively as they chased an equaliser.
On 80 minutes Ramsey surged down the right and cut back for Bale, who shielded the ball and tempted Zimmerman into a wild lunge.
Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim pointed to the spot and Bale stepped up to save Wales.
Wales face Iran on Friday in their second Group B game.
England were 6-2 winners over the Iranians earlier on Monday.