Moore has to start against Iran
Officially, Gareth Bale was the man of the match against the USA but even the Wales captain was happy to pass the accolade to Kieffer Moore, whose half-time introduction transformed the game. Moore rejuvenated the Red Wall, who could be forgiven for feeling a tad deflated at the break, and revitalised his teammates. Rob Page conceded his decision to start Daniel James, who was replaced by Moore, alongside Bale in attack, inspired by watching the USA play out a draw against Saudi Arabia in Alicante in September, backfired. “Lessons have been learned,” Page said. “It was important not to lose.”
Page can lean on strength in depth
“Chris Coleman would probably be the first to admit that when he looked over his shoulder to the bench [at Euro 2016], he didn’t have as good quality to replace some of the lads winning games on the pitch,” Page said recently. This Wales squad includes more Premier League players than ever and two of those, Ethan Ampadu and Joe Rodon – even if they are on loan in Italy and France respectively – were among Wales’s best performers against the USA. Also, it was not just Moore who thrived as a substitute, with the Nottingham Forest forward Brennan Johnson, who shone in Nations League defeats in the Netherlands and Belgium, scoring in the former, instrumental in instigating panic. In fairness, Page did not hesitate to turn to Moore and he needn’t fret about looking behind him in the future.
Defence is best form of attack
The Wales supporters enjoyed rattling through the back catalogue of songs en route to the Ahmad bin Ali stadium, singing Tom Jones’s Delilah, chanting about Moore, Jonny Williams – to them “super Joniesta” – and then Chris Gunter, whose men’s appearance record Bale equalled on Monday. Gunter, an experienced full-back, is unlikely to feature barring injury and almost certainly not in Wales’s favoured wing-back system. Connor Roberts and Neco Williams, who played hours on from learning of his grandfather’s death, were pegged back for long periods and had to suffer as Timothy Weah and Christian Pulisic made meaningful tracks down the flanks for the first 45 minutes, but Wales are at their bewitching best when the pair are rarely seen in their own half.
Bale will only get better
The painful reality is that until levelling from the penalty spot on 82 minutes Bale had something of a stinker against the USA. A performance littered with misplaced passes and poor touches will, rightly, be sugarcoated by the fact Bale ensured Wales stay in the conversation to progress to the last 16. It was no surprise the 33-year-old felt fatigued towards the end – his first full game since September ran to more than 100 minutes – but after his tailor-made fitness programme at Los Angeles FC ensured he arrived in Qatar clear of niggles, he will be keen to put his foot down. “Now is All,” is Fifa’s motto for this tournament and Bale will presumably have a similar message at the forefront of his mind against Iran on Friday. A couple of minutes after the final whistle Bale gathered his teammates into a huddle and urged them to build on the momentum garnered late on.
Wales won’t suffer stage fright
Aside from failing to make the ball stick up front, in the first half against the USA Wales were generally a shadow of the fearless, vibrant team that turned up in the second. Page seemed at a loss as to why. He pondered whether it was the occasion – after all, it was their first appearance at a World Cup for 64 years – or first-game nerves. Wales fought back from a goal down against Switzerland to rescue a point in their opener at the European Championship in Baku last year courtesy of a goal from Moore, before beating Turkey four days later. How Wales would happily settle for a repeat in Doha.