USA vs Wales World Cup 2022: Wales qualifies for the first time in over 60 years – can the USA spoil their party?
Monday Nov. 21, 2pm ET
The United States take on Wales on the opening day of the 2022 World Cup, in Group B's second match. In what will be Wales’ first appearance at a World Cup tournament since 1958, they will be desperate to make their nation proud, while the USA will want to show the world of soccer what it missed out on at the 2018 World Cup. Former Real Madrid player Gareth Bale – heading to Los Angeles FC – is set to will captain Wales into their first World Cup game for over half a century.
United States forward Brenden Aaronson celebrates his goal with the defender Antonee Robinson. © Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Since 1990, the USA has featured in every World Cup apart from 2018. Across those seven tournaments their best finish was at the 2002 Finals where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual finalists Germany. They have failed to qualify from the group stage on three occasions, and were knocked out at the round of 16 three times, including their last two World Cups in 2014 and 2010.
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, the United States will have plenty of new faces in the roster. Head coach Earnie Stewart knows that he has a young team lacking in international tournament experience, the side only just scraped automatic qualification due to their superior goal difference to Costa Rica.
With an average roster age of 24 during the 2022 World Cup qualification stage, it was a priority for Stewart to give the young players plenty of minutes so they can gain individual experience, allowing the team to gel and play coherently, as the coach looks to form a side that will challenge for future tournaments. This side will be told to play with confidence in their first World Cup Group B game and show no fear. Due to relative inexperience – most roster members will be at their first World Cup – they won’t have huge swathes of pressure placed on them. They will fancy their chances to get out of the group.
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USA player to watch: Antonee Robinson
Antonee Robinson is a left back who currently plays for Premier League-bound Fulham. Despite being born in England, Robinson is eligible to play for the United States due to his American father. Nicknamed Jedi, the defender has had a 2021/22 campaign to remember, achieving promotion to England's top flight after his club had a remarkable season. The London side finished top of the Championship table with 90 points from 46 league games, scoring a staggering 106 goals in the process.
Robinson was a key player in Fulham’s promotion as he clocked in 36 appearances and contributed six goals for the side. At club level, the 25-year-old has picked up advice from fellow American defender Tim Ream, who started every league game for Fulham in the 2021/22 season. Robinson has been given valuable advice to take to Qatar from Ream who has over 40 caps for the USA.
On top of his club form, Robinson was a crucial player during World Cup qualifying for the States. He played the most minutes, and scoring twice and assisting three times, helping the nation qualify for the 2022 World Cup. He will need to be at his best to keep Wales’ attacking threat at bay.
Wales booked their ticket to the 2022 FIFA World Cup through two tense play-off matches after finishing second in their qualifying group. Ending just one point above Czech Republic, Wales progressed to their first play-off game against Austria. Captain Gareth Bale was the team’s savior with his brace to secure a 2-1 win for Wales. This result set up a tie with Ukraine for the final European World Cup place in what proved to be an emotional match.
A first-half deflected free kick from Bale was the difference as the Welsh, with Robert Page's side heading to their first World Cup since 1958. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey deserves a special mention for his heroics in between the sticks, making countless saves from Ukraine’s 24 shots.
Another key Welsh player the USA need to be wary of is Aaron Ramsey. The former Arsenal midfielder has plenty of tournament experience domestically and was a key part of Wales’ surprise semifinal journey at the 2016 European Championships. He has played in over 10 domestic finals in England, Scotland and Italy, racking vital top-level experience.
Wales has proved in recent years that they are not to be underestimated. They have a team greater than the sum of their parts, with some world class talent sprinkled on top. That said, they are liable to the odd lack of defensive concentration, and discipline which saw them concede in the dying minutes against the Netherlands in both UEFA Nations League matches against them.
Wales player to watch: Gareth Bale
We could discuss the merits of Aaron Ramsey, the pace of Daniel James, or how effective striker Kieffer Moore has been recently, but let's be honest: Gareth Bale is arguably the greatest player to ever play for his country and will be the nation’s biggest threat in Qatar. Infamously, Bale has had internal conflict with Real Madrid which has negatively affected his playing time at the club over recent years. He was loaned to his former club Tottenham Hotspur during the 2020/21 season where he appeared in 20 games, starting 10 of those, while finding the back of the net 11 times. Since his return to Real, Bale only featured five times in the 2021/22 campaign. His international form, however, has never dipped. The winger now plays his soccer in the United States after joining Los Angeles FC over his hometown club of Cardiff City and several Premier League clubs.
It’s clear that Bale’s priorities lie with his national team, his best moment in a Wales’ shirt was during the 2016 European Championships, scoring in every group game, including two spectacular free kicks. The Welsh wizard shoots at goal at any opportunity, and is his country’s all time top scorer with 39 goals. The forward’s other attributes include speed, acceleration and touch-tight dribbling, none of which has not diminished. Bale will be 33 when he goes to Qatar in November in what could be his first and last World Cup outing with Wales, we expect him to score.