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Two of the World Cup’s youngest teams will meet when the United States and Wales clash in Al Rayyan on Monday. Back at the World Cup after a 64-year hiatus, the Welsh impress at first sight with their formidable routine: Gareth Bale is now playing in LA at the age of 33 and is still the team’s superhero. The U.S. boys also want to use the tournament for the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

>> Live Ticker: USA vs. Wales

In Group B, complete with England and Iran, a win in the opening match would be a crucial step towards the knockout stage for both opponents. In a battle of 16 against 19 in the FIFA world rankings, there are no real favorites on paper. American coach Greg Berhalter, seeing a certain arrogance in his own country, agrees. “I think Wales are underrated, at least in the American media,” said the former centre-back. “When I look at their team, I’m basically looking at a Premier League side.”

Bale is usually just substitutes

Play-off victories over Austria and Ukraine saw them progress to the World Cup for the second time since 1958. Bale, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Wayne Hennessey, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter, Jonny Williams and Daniel Ward were the other eight players who were part of the surprise semi-final adventure at EURO 2016 in France. Nevertheless, coach Rob Page’s “Dragons” are a predominantly young team, despite a 1-0 win over Ukraine in June.

Captain Bale began receiving his salary in US dollars from MLS champions Los Angeles FC this summer. At Real Madrid, the brilliant left-footed attacker was sidelined for a long time. He proved he can do it when it matters most not only in the 2-1 win over ÖFB-Elf, but also in the MLS final two weeks ago. He then scored in the 128th minute to send his team into the penalty shootout, where LAFC finally won against the Philadelphia Union. “He just got there and he’s already done what he always does,” Wales forward Daniel James said.

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As with almost every appearance in America, Bale came off the bench in the final only because of his fitness. He was in the starting XI only twice. “Every footballer wants to play as long as possible, but we were smart and made the last crucial phase of the season,” explained the passionate golfer. Hopefully this will lead to my best performance at the World Cup. While Bale is now said to be back to 100 percent, midfielder Allen could miss the USA game. The 32-year-old from Swansea has not played since mid-September with a hamstring injury.

Two fights so far

Observers in the US say the current team is the most talented in a long time, perhaps the best in the country so far. The U.S. boys missed the 2018 tournament in Russia, and Berhalter has since been trying to rebuild with prospects for 2026. Thanks to optimists like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKenney (Juventus Turin), Giovani Reina (Borussia Dortmund), Sergino Test. (AC Milan), Brendan Aaronson (Leeds United), Timothy Weah (Lille) or Younes Musa (Valencia) can’t really go wrong.

Nevertheless, as in the past, the American shape curve shows many ups and downs. For example, in the CONCACAF qualifiers, they beat Mexico at home but lost in Panama. There have only been two games against Wales so far – both friendlies, the USA winning 2-0 in 2003, and a goalless draw since 2020.

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