We preview the 2022 World Cup match between USA and Wales including our pre-match prediction for each team’s opening game in Group B.
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It’s a matchup of two countries about the end their respective World Cup absences, though one is far longer than the other. It had become table stakes for the United States to qualify for the World Cup until missing the 2018 edition, but for Wales Monday will mark their first World Cup match in 64 years. And manager Rob Page insists his side are not in Qatar to merely make up the numbers.
Not since 1958, when eliminated in the quarter-finals by a 17-year-old Pele and his Brazil side, have Wales made it to the showpiece tournament – the longest ever gap between participations.
The Dragons have reached the past two European Championships, however, making it all the way to the semi-finals in 2016 and to the first knockout stage last year.
Page wrote his name in Welsh folklore by guiding his nation to a second ever World Cup, after taking over from Ryan Giggs, and he is targeting another famous tournament run.
“Managers are greedy,” he said. “We are grateful that we have got to this stage. But you look at the group and you start to look at the teams individually.
“There is no disrespect to the other teams, but we have to go into the group with huge confidence that we can get out of the group, and we do.”
Wales, who beat Austria and Ukraine in the play-offs to book their place in Qatar, are ranked 19th in the world – three places behind USA.
England (fifth) and Iran (20th) are also in Group B, which is arguably the toughest to call on the face of it as the only pool with four top-20 countries.
USA boast far more World Cup experience than Wales, with this their 11th finals, though their first in eight years after failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
Indeed, only Mexico (17) have appeared at more World Cup among CONCACAF nations, and USA have reached the knockouts in three of their past four involvements.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter made some surprising squad selections, with Ricardo Pepi and Zack Steffen among those left out, but he intends to stay true to his style of play.
“There’s a difference between qualifying in CONCACAF and playing in the World Cup”, he said. “It’s important that we represent our identity as a team.
“It’s not time to change who we are. We’re an aggressive team, a high-pressing team. We want to use the ball and we’re going to find out if we can be successful doing it.”
Berhalter, who will become the first person to represent USA at the World Cup as both a player and manager, also vowed not to take Wales lightly at Al Rayyan Stadium.
“I think at least to the American media, Wales is underrated. When I look at their squad, it’s basically a Premier League squad,” he said.
“To me, it’s a really good squad, a formidable squad. They’ve been in international competition before, they know what it’s like.”
Monday’s match will mark the third ever meeting between the sides, with USA unbeaten so far thanks to one win and a draw, both in friendlies.
Players to Watch
USA: Giovanni Reyna
The USA have named the second-youngest squad of any side in Qatar, with an average age of 25 years and 215 days (as of the opening day of the tournament).
Borussia Dortmund attacker Reyna is one of those younger prospects looking to make an impact in his maiden World Cup as he looks to build on the four goals scored in his first 14 senior caps.
Reyna only turned 20 this month and could become the 14th player in USA’s history to win 15 caps under the age of 21 years old, a list that includes his father Claudio.
He figures to move around the pitch in the American attack, but when he’s on the right, look for him to use his creativity to link up with AC Milan’s Sergiño Dest going forward. That’s where the bulk of the USMNT attack came from during CONCACAF qualifiers:
Wales: Gareth Bale
Nine of Wales’ 13 goals at their past two major tournaments, Euro 2016 and 2020, have seen at least one of Bale or Aaron Ramsey either score or provide the assist.
Bale may have lacked playing time over the past year, but that made little difference when scoring all three of Wales’ goals in their play-off wins over Austria and Ukraine.
The 33-year-old played a big part in Los Angeles FC’s recent MLS Cup triumph and has declared himself fit enough to play a full part in each of the Dragons’ matches in Qatar.
There is very little between the sides in terms of FIFA rankings, and that is reflected in our supercomputer prediction model.
USA, who have never registered a goalless draw in 33 World Cup matches, have a 39.5% chance of taking all three points, compared to 31.2% for Wales.
The prediction model produces a 29.3% likelihood of a draw happening in what’s undoubtedly a crucial match in determining which of these sides might make good on their ambitions to advance to the knockout stages.