World Cup 2022: Gareth Bale ready for ‘historic’ Wales opener v USA

Gareth Bale (right) at Wales training
Gareth Bale (right) is Wales’ leading scorer in men’s football with 40 goals from 108 games
Host nation: Qatar Dates: November 20-December 18 Coverages: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Gareth Bale is ready to lead Wales in a “massive piece of history” when he captains them in their first World Cup match for 64 years on Monday.

Wales faces the United States in their Group B opener in Qatar.

Although Wales qualified for the past two European Championships, they have not played at a World Cup since 1958.

“It’s probably the biggest honor we could have for our country, qualifying for a World Cup, something we haven’t done in 64 years,” said Bale.

“It’s history in our country. Schools are going to stop to watch our games [the second group game against Iran kicks off at 10:00 GMT]. Kids are going to miss school, fortunately for them.

“It’s a massive piece of history in our country and something we have all wanted for a long time.

“We have the support of the nation back home, no matter what happens, as long as we give 100% our country will love us for that.”

No country has waited as long between a first and second World Cup appearance than Wales have done with their 64-year absence.

That barren spell was littered with painful tales of near misses, from Scotland in 1977 and 1985 to Romania in 1993 and the Republic of Ireland in 2017.

But Wales are now in the midst of a golden generation, ending their 58-year wait for a major tournament by qualifying for Euro 2016 – where they reached a historic first semi-final – and backing that up by reaching the second round of Euro 2020 .

World Cup qualification continued to elusive trials, however, until Wales overcame Ukraine in their play-off final in June.

“Everybody’s dreamt of it for such a long time, so many close calls,” said Bale.

“For us to be the team that got over the line was incredible for us but, most importantly, the best thing was to do it for our country, to grow football and inspire another generation, and to get more kids playing football.

“By doing that we’ll hopefully have a stronger national team in the future. In 20 years’ time if someone is sat here and says we have inspired them then that’s incredible.”

Robert Page
Robert Page succeeded former team-mate Ryan Giggs as Wales manager

Wales and the USA are joined in Group B by England and Iran, who play earlier on Monday.

“You look at England and the USA, and naturally people will be talking about them as the top two, and then ourselves and Iran,” said Wales manager Robert Page.

“But we know on our day, and we’ve proven in the Nations League against Belgium and against a very good Dutch team, that we can more than compete.

“We’re new to the tournament and there might be a few surprises along the way.

“There’s no pressure on us, we’re going to enjoy it, we’re going to compete and I’ve said to the group: ‘We’re not here to make the numbers up, we’re here because we’ve earned the right to be here, because we’re a good team, and I want to go and show the world how good we are.”

News team

Wales will be without influential midfielder Joe Allen, whose hamstring injury has kept him out since September.

Although the 32-year-old will miss the opening fixture against the USA, Wales are hopeful he will play some part in the group stage.

Allen is an important player for Wales, having played at the past two European Championships and earned a place in the official Uefa team of the tournament when Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

Other than him, Wales have their entire 26-man World Cup squad to choose from for Monday’s match.

Bale has declared himself ready to start all three group games in the space of eight days despite featuring predominantly as a substitute for club side Los Angeles FC this season.

Aaron Ramsey, who like Bale and Allen is another veteran of the past two Euros, is also fit and available to start having played regularly for Nice.

Two of the USA’s most prominent players, Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest, are fitness concerns.

Juventus midfielder McKennie and full-back Dest, on loan at AC Milan from Barcelona, ​​have been struggling with thigh and adductor issues respectively.

But USA head coach Gregg Berhalter is confident both will feature against Wales, either from the start or as substitutes.

“We are looking at the game in its entirety and how we can be successful,” said Berhalter.

“We want to be aggressive and hurt them, but they have strengths and we want to be able to take them away.

“When picking a line-up we will be focusing on the guys who can execute from the onset, but solutions [off the bench] will be really important in this game and throughout the World Cup.

“They [Wales] are underrated. They are an experienced team with international experience. Solid backline, robust players, very physical, talented, difference makers up top with Bale, [Daniel] James, [Kieffer] Moore. Solid midfield and wing-backs that get forward.

“Overall it is a really solid team. Starting point is matching their intensity and a competitive mindset.”

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