Wales return to international football’s biggest stage for the first time in 64 years when they kick off their World Cup campaign against USA at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium this evening and Robert Page’s history-makers will be desperate to mark the occasion with a positive result. With England expected to lock in top spot in Group B, the outcome of today’s fixture between the USA and Wales could have a major bearing on the race for second place.
You can find my stats pack for this evening’s showdown below which features info on cards, corners, fouls, xG, shots and more from the sides’ qualification campaigns. Take what you need from the data and from my Stats Pack Guide to power your bet builder coupons later on.
USA Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has little to trouble him in the way of injuries ahead of this evening’s game and a full-strength Stars and Stripes outfit should be named to face Wales.
Yunus Mensah, Weston McKennie and skipper Tyler Adams should make up an energetic trio in midfield, while there is a nice mix of guile and speed in attack with Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Jesus Ferreira likely to start.
Wales should be deployed in their tried and trusted 3-4-3 formation this evening with Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon and Ben Davies re-united as a central-defensive trio ahead of keeper Wayne Hennessey.
Dan James and Gareth Bale should bring dynamism from the flanks either side of striker Kieffer Moore while Aaron Ramsey is the star turn in the Dragons’ midfield.
The USA just about sneaked in ahead of Cost Rica to claim the third and final automatic qualification berth in the CONCACAF region, though their haul of just seven wins from 14 matches in the section was underwhelming to say the least.
USA’s 1.50 goals per 90 minutes figure did make them the second-highest scoring side in the group behind winners Canada, while Gregg Berhalter’s charges’ disciplinary record was also squeaky clean (1.07 cards p/90).
Wales, of course, had to take the scenic route to Qatar, travelling through a group phase and a series of dramatic playoff fixtures to book their spot for World Cup 2022.
The Dragons lost just once (vs Belgium) in eight matches in UEFA Qualification Group E before Gareth Bale’s inspirational performances pushed them past Austria and Ukraine in the playoffs.
Wales’s underlying stats for their qualification campaign were on the modest side, with little difference between their xG for and against, while conceding double-figure shots against (11.40 p/90) was also a worrying trend.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Gregg Berhalter used several different combinations of attackers during the USA’s qualification adventure and Christian Pulisic (2.65 shots per 90), Ricardo Pepi (2.93) and Timothy Weah (2.60) were among the team’s best performers.
With Pepi left out of USA’s World Cup squad completely and Weah likely to be on the bench, Premier League pair Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson look like the best candidates to test Welsh stopper Wayne Hennessey this evening.
Gareth Bale (4.41 shots p/90) remains Wales’s chief protagonist in the final third despite his advancing years, so expect him to let fly with that majestic left foot every time he is offered a glimpse of goal.
Brennan Johnson (2.54) and Kieffer Moore (2.58) showed up well for shots on goal during the Dragons’ qualifiers, though Dan James’ (1.56) pace gives him an x-factor that could trouble the American backline this evening.
Player Goals and Assists
Christian Pulisic is the poster boy for soccer in the US and though he remains a peripheral figure for Chelsea at club level, his five-goal haul in eight qualification appearances highlights just how pivotal a figure he is for his country.
Rodrigo Pepi lodged six goal contributions for the USA in qualifiers, making his snub for Qatar all the more difficult to understand. Fulham full-back Antonee Robinson provides real thrust down the left and he chipped in with either a goal or assist every 2.4 games for the Americans.
Gareth Bale scored six times and claimed three assists in seven appearances for Wales during their qualification run and the 33-year-old scored all of his team’s goals in their playoff victories over Austria (2-1) and Ukraine (1-0).
Aaron Ramsey is a reliable goal-scoring option from midfield when fit and firing, while Dan James (2G, 2A) can have entire backlines on edge when he glides through the gears.
Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson collected plenty of cards during USA’s qualification fixtures though the defender hasn’t travelled to Qatar. His namesake, Antonee, could be one to watch at left-back this evening, however, when he marks the talismanic Gareth Bale.
Juventus’ star Weston McKennie and Leeds’ Tyler Adams are hard-hitting operators in midfield, while Sergino Dest is one I’ve picked out at right back, despite his absence from our list.
Dest has struggled to earn minutes at AC Milan this season and he could be a little ring rusty against the speedy Dan James.
Harry Wilson drew more fouls than any other Wales player during the Dragons’ qualifiers, though the Fulham winger will likely be handed a watching brief from the bench today.
Instead, Gareth Bale (fouled 1.73 times per 90) could be among the most-fouled Welsh players this evening when he tests his mettle against the aggressive Antonee Robinson.
Dan James and Aaron Ramsey don’t feature in the table, though the pair’s star quality should mean they attract attention and challenges from Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie.
Match-Ups to watch
Antonee Robinson vs Gareth Bale
Sergino Dest vs Dan James
Weston McKennie vs Aaron Ramsey
In the Welsh ranks, burly centre-forward Kieffer Moore was a potent foul merchant in qualification contests, though it makes more sense to look further back the field for card candidates today.
In midfield, Joe Allen (two cards) or Joseff Morrell (two cards) will start alongside Aaron Ramsey and either player would make a decent inclusion in your coupon this evening.
Elsewhere, Neco Williams has been a combative presence for Nottingham Forest at club level this term and his tally of three Premier League cards since August suggests he tackles hard enough to earn a caution on his World Cup debut.
Key creative pair Christian Pulisic (fouled 3.79 times p/90) and Brenden Aaronson (1.92) were regularly targeted by opponents during the USA’s qualification matches and both wide attackers will be followed closely by Welsh defenders today.
Pulisic will likely share the same spaces at the impetuous Ethan Ampadu this evening, while Brenden Aaronson could be involved in an all-Premier League battle against Neco Williams on the other side.
Valencia starlet Yunus Mensah (fouled 2.07 times p/90) regularly seeks out skirmishes in midfield and the 19-year-old should be right in the thick of the action again at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Mensah’s abrasive style of play could ruffle a few Welsh feathers and one of Joe Allen or Joseff Morrell could be tempted to land some blows on the teenager.
Match-Ups to watch
Ethan Ampadu vs Christian Pulisic
Neco Williams vs Sergino Dest
Harry Wilson vs Yunus Mensah