|host nation: Qatar Events: 20 Nov-18 Nov December Cover: 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. Daily TV Lists – Full coverage details|
Even in unfamiliar territory, Wales feels like it’s been here before.
And although they had not stepped onto this stage since 1958, Wales can turn to recent history for inspiration as they plan their route in Qatar.
After a 58-year absence from major tournaments, Wales have qualified in three out of four since 2016. And it is the latest of these, Euro 2020, postponed last year, that could set the template for progress at this World Cup.
In the sweltering heat of Azerbaijan, Wales’ first game of 2021 did not go according to plan as they were 1-0 at half-time against Switzerland, whose lead was by no means a reflection of their dominance.
On that occasion, Kieffer Moore’s header secured a 1-1 draw for Wales and set the stage for the second group game – as they blew Turkey away in a big step towards the second round.
In Qatar on Monday evening there were echoes of the start of this campaign in Baku.
Thoroughly outplayed by the USA in the first half, Wales were lucky to be just 1-0 down at the break before Moore’s introduction converted them.
Bale, their captain, all-time leading scorer and screenwriter, then created another pivotal moment with a late penalty.
It felt like a movie they had seen before.
“The goal was exactly what we needed,” said Bale.
“It didn’t matter who shot it and it gave us a footing to try and win it. I felt we played very well in the second half.
“Personally, it was great to score, but the most important thing was that the team scored. We just have to keep the momentum, recover and move on.”
This last-era Bale isn’t the all-action winger he was a decade ago, but he’s still a match-winner – despite having to choose his moments now at 33; “clever” and “intelligent” as manager Robert Page said after the game.
Bale is still capable of turning back the years and delivering vintage quality performances like he did in that win over Turkey at Euro 2020.
Bale, Moore and the other Wales players adapted during that game against Switzerland, surviving the onslaught and putting themselves in a position to be on the cusp of the knockout stages with a win over Turkey .
Against the United States On Monday, the same players helped Wales complete the first part of the trick’s repeat.
After a first draw, they now have to hit Iran on Friday (10:00 GMT kick-off) to take a similar step towards the second round of the World Championship.
“Lessons have been learned,” Page said. “It was important that we didn’t lose the game. We’ve got some tired bodies in there so we need to get a team ready to go back on Friday.
“The good thing we have, if you look at the bench now, we have Brennan [Johnson] He played in the Premier League, he came and made an impression, Kieffer came and made an impression.
“We have strength at depth. I can look over my shoulder at the bench and we have players who can come and have a real impact on games.”
At Euro 2020, Wales reached the round of 16 despite losing their last group match to Italy, who went on to win the tournament.
They end their group stage at this World Cup with a game against England next Tuesday.
As for their own fate, Wales would be happy to see a repeat of Euro 2020. It could be that the goodwill does not go so far that the last group opponent swings the cup up again.
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