The FIFA World Cup is 64 matches long. And as much as we all would love to, catching each and every single match would be a challenge.
But, we’re narrowing down several of the key games that we think are definitely worth your time, and worth missing a few hours of sleep for. And this week, Wales vs. USA is a match you’re going to want to catch.
With Wales making their first tournament appearance since the 50s, and the US team bringing in a squad filled with young talent, which of these teams will open their World Cup campaign with a win?
Here are the storylines to watch out for.
The Welsh are back
Gareth Bale is one of the most well-known names in football. Yet at 33 years old, he is just about to make his World Cup debut. This is because Wales has qualified for the World Cup again for the first time since 1958.
Historically, Wales rejoined FIFA in 1946, after World War II. They participated in the qualifying rounds of the 1950 and 1954 World Cup tournaments, but it wasn’t until 1958 that the team finally cracked through.
1958 marked the Welsh football team’s first World Cup appearance. There, they made it all the way to the quarterfinals but were ultimately eliminated by Brazil (with a goal by Pele, no less). Failing to advance, little did the country know that it would take some 64 years for their team to return to the world stage.
In the qualifying stages for this year’s tournament, Wales went on a seven-game streak after winning their opening game against Belgium. This, along with the awareness that their team is making history for their country, may give the Welsh the spirit they need to make it far in the competition.
Gareth Bale leads the squad in their World Cup campaign. Alongside him are other key players such as Aaron Ramsey, Dan James, and Ben Davies. In addition, many of Wales’ World Cup squad members helped the country qualify for the Euro 2016 and Euro 2020.
Indeed, Wales’ comeback is just as emotional as it is historic. An estimated 2,500 Welsh fans have flown to Qatar to witness their first World Cup match in 64 years: Wales vs. USA.
The kids of America
The United States is also making its comeback to the World Cup.
After the United States failed to qualify for Russia 2018, their squad is hungry to prove that they stack up against the European giants. And now, with more American players rising to the top of European clubs, they may have a good chance at doing so. But, they do have a very young squad.
In what many are referring to as a “golden generation” for the US Men’s Football Team, their squad has an average age of 25 years. This makes them the second-youngest team in the World Cup this year. But make no mistake: many of their players have more experience now than they did before.
The United States now has more players who are competing at high levels across Europe than ever before. Christian Pulisic competes for Chelsea FC; Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson play for Leeds United; Weston McKennie plays for Juventus, to name just a few.
This young squad is eager to prove that although they call this sport “soccer,” they can play just as well as anyone else.
Wales vs. USA should be an interesting matchup. While several Welsh players have been waiting years for this moment, many of the American men still have to prove their potential, especially on the world stage.
From friends to foes
Another storyline to watch out for in the Wales vs. USA game is the matchup between two recent Major League Soccer (MLS) champions: Gareth Bale and Kellyn Acosta.
Both payers for Los Angeles FC, Acosta and Bale just recently shared a milestone together—winning the MLS championship earlier this month in a game that many have dubbed “the greatest game in MLS history.”
It was Kellyn Acosta who scored first for LAFC. But at the end of 90 minutes, the team was tied with Philadelphia Union, 2-2, sending the game into overtime. And after Union took the lead in stoppage time, Gareth Bale, who came on in the 97th minute, leveled the score once against to send the match into penalty kicks.
Ultimately, Los Angeles emerged as the champions and both Bale and Acosta were key figures in the win.
Playing on the same side just over two weeks ago, now they return to the pitch on opposite ends—Bale for Wales and Acosta for the United States. And even as they both carry in the momentum of their recent championship, which one of them will have the edge over the other in their opening match?
Banner image from Wales on Twitter.