With a late penalty goal, captain Gareth Bale got Wales in the party mood at their first World Cup appearance in 64 years. The star striker helped the Dragons to a 1:1 (0:1) against the USA on Monday evening. The long-superior Americans took a 36th-minute lead at Al-Rajjan's Ahmad bin Ali Stadium through Timothy Weah, son of former Liberian world footballer George Weah. Bale equalized from the point in the 82nd minute.
43,418 spectators watched an intense but not top-class game in Group B of the World Cup in Qatar. With a moved expression, Bale listened to his country's national anthem before the kick-off, loudly sung by the fans in red. The Welsh were in the 2016 European Championship semi-finals, but last played a World Cup tournament in 1958 when they failed in the quarter-finals at eventual title winners Brazil. The 33-year-old star striker and former Real Madrid professional knew his opponents only too well: he recently became US champions with his new club Los Angeles FC.
As a rather lonely attacker, Bale saw his back line get into trouble. Keeper Wayne Hennessy first had to fend off a header from his own frontman Joe Rodon, then ex-Bremen Josh Sargent hit the outside of the post.
The team of US coach Gregg Beerhalter, once captain at Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich, was more energetic in its search for the way forward. Welsh coach Rob Page called up six defensive players – Bale and Co. hardly played anything on offense in the first half.
The US selection, this time led by former Leipzig player Tyler Adams as captain, missed the 2018 World Cup in Russia. On their return to the international stage with 25 World Cup debuts, the Americans simply seemed more agile and lively than their opponents, but rarely found gaps in Wales' five-man chain.
The Bale team then increasingly shifted the game to the opposing half: After Ben Davies and Kieffer Moore headed the ball after a good hour, the Wales supporters behind the US goal had raised their arms halfway to cheer, but the ball only went in when Bale converted the penalty he was guilty of.
In the second game of the day, Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen helped the Netherlands to a perfect World Cup debut. The three-time finalist won 2-0 (0-0) against Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Monday, putting coach Louis van Gaal's selection in a good position to advance to the next round. After Gakpo (84th minute) late 1: 0, Klaassen (90th 9) made the decision.
The African champions, who have to do without their injured superstar Sadio Mané in the tournament, are worried about qualifying for the round of 16 in their third World Cup appearance and now urgently need a win in the second tournament game against hosts Qatar. Goalkeeper and debutant Andries Noppert kept a good performance in his first international match without conceding a goal.
Co-favorite England defied the hype about the symbolic colorful captain's armband and set the first sporting exclamation mark in Qatar with the highest opening World Cup win in their history. The team around goalscorer Jude Bellingham, where captain Harry Kane did not have the "One Love" armband for diversity on his arm after the announced sanctions by Fifa, won 6: 2 (3: 0) against in Al-Rajjan on Monday the overwhelmed outsider Iran and thus impressively demonstrated his ambitions for the title.
In front of 45,334 spectators, some of whom were late to the stadium due to problems with the ticketing app, Bellingham (35th minute) scored the opening goal for head coach Gareth Southgate's team. Wingers Bukayo Saka (43'/62'), Raheem Sterling (45', 1'), Marcus Rashford (71') and Jack Grealish (90') added more goals. For England it was the first win since March, in the summer there was not a single success in six Nations League games. More than two goals by Mehdi Taremi (65th/90th 13/penalty) were not possible for Iran.
The Iranian goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand was substituted early on with a head injury. The 30-year-old collided with his team-mate Majid Hosseini on Monday in the game against England at the Chalifa International Stadium in Al-Rajjan after a sharp cross from Harry Kane and then had to be treated on the ground for minutes. Beiranvand briefly tried to continue but was replaced by Seyed Hossein Hosseini in the 18th minute and left the field. A concussion was suspected.
Even before kick-off at the Khalifa International Stadium, which also hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships, the game was highly political and symbolic. England captain Kane did not wear the armband because FIFA threatened to sanction the campaign by several European associations with yellow cards and other penalties as a sign of diversity. A week ago, the FA association announced that it would also accept penalties for the diversity sign. Now those responsible emphasized that they did not want to get the players on the pitch in trouble.
The signs of the outsider were all the more visible - albeit in a completely different matter. Some Iranian fans showed their solidarity with the protests at home by wearing shirts that read "Women, Life, Freedom". For weeks, Iran has been rocked by the worst protests in decades. The death of a young woman in police custody had triggered this, and the security apparatus reacted with harshness. The Iranian players were silent during the anthem, the fans made additional noise - that is also understood as a protest.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated since it was first published.