Wales will feature in a World Cup final for the first time in 64 years when they face the United States in Al Rayyan in their opening Group B match on Monday night.
This match will complete the first leg of Group B, an intriguing part involving England and Iran that could be very tight.
The United States returned to the World Cup finals after missing the 2018 tournament in lousy form following a defeat to Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualifying round.
This time around, it’s still a close match in a very tough qualifying session where the top four nations are only three points apart, but the US won one of the three automatic slots, just ahead of Costa Rica.
Gregg Berhalter raised some eyebrows with his squad selection, removing a number of players who have been regular on the team over the past few years, but after the form had tailed off slightly in preparation for the finals, change was likely.
The United States have reached the knockout stages in four of their last seven tournament appearances, but they haven’t been able to beat European rivals in the previous nine, so if you want to make it this time, they definitely have to end that streak with two UEFA countries in their group.
Meanwhile, Wales’ form in reaching the final has also not yielded much optimism, as they have not won since taking place in Qatar with a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the knockout stages.
The 1-1 draw with Belgium was the only point Rob Page’s side have won in their recent Nations League campaign, as home and away losses to Poland and the Netherlands saw them relegated. out of League A.
All eyes will be on Gareth Bale again, as the former Real Madrid star will be the guiding light for Wales following his heroic performances in the knockout stages – scoring twice against Austria in the semi-final, and assisting Andriy Yarmolenko for an own goal in the final.
Wales have made it past the group stage at their last two major tournament appearances at Euro 2016 and 2020, and Bale certainly wants to make sure they will do it again, considering this could be his swansong in the colours of his nation.
USA form (all competitions):
Wales form (all competitions):
Zack Steffen was supposed to be gloved for the United States in Qatar, but an uninspiring season with Manchester City, which saw him replaced by Stefan Ortega as a substitute, cost him a complete position in the squad.
Matt Turner and Ethan Horvath are the two men who will fight for a starting spot, and Arsenal player Turner played in both friendlies in September so could have the upper hand.
Weston McKennie hasn’t played for Juventus since October, but he should be fit to start in midfield here.
The main US strength comes from the third front, with many options available to Berhalter, meaning one or two might be unfortunate to miss out, as Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna and Jesus Ferreira are all staking a claim to start in attack alongside Christian Pulisic.
Gareth Bale revealed earlier in the week that he is ready and willing to play 90 minutes in all three of Wales’ group stage games if needed, although he has been restricted to appearing mainly as a guest since. when he joined LAFC in the MLS this year.
However, defender Rhys Norrington-Davies was not so lucky, as the Sheffield United player will be out of competition for Wales, following his injury against Coventry City last month.
USA possible starting lineup:
Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Long, A Robinson; Adams, McKennie, Aaronson; Reyna, Ferreira, Pulisic
Wales’s possible starting lineup:
Hennessey; C Roberts, Mepham, Rodon, B Davies, N Williams; Ampadu, Ramsey; Bale, Moore, James