The U.S. takes on Wales in the World Cup
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It was a tale of two halves today for the U.S. men's soccer team in its opener at the World Cup in Qatar. The U.S. dominated Wales for the first 45 minutes and was up one-nil at the half. But Wales stormed back to tie it late, and that is how the game ended - a 1-1 draw. NPR's Tom Goldman was at the stadium and joins us from Doha. And, Tom, let's talk first about that opening half for the Americans. What stood out to you?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Ari, the U.S. was very disciplined, aggressive, maybe too much at times. They had seven first-half fouls and two yellow cards for rough play. But in the words of their coach, Gregg Berhalter, they did not look like a team playing in its first World Cup, and it really was. This was the first time the U.S. was playing in the World Cup since 2014. They missed the last one. And the players on this team - very young team, second youngest team in the tournament. Twenty-five of the 26 players on the roster had never played in a World Cup - so very inexperienced, but that's what Burkhalter liked. He liked the way they looked. And their good play in that first half paid off with a beautiful goal at around the 35-minute mark, when star forward Christian Pulisic broke free with the ball and threaded a beautiful lead pass for another forward, Tim Weah, who flicked the ball in with his right foot for a one-nil lead for the U.S. at halftime. The U.S. fans went bonkers.
SHAPIRO: But it didn't last. So how did Wales come back in the second half?
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Well, they kind of flipped the script. Wales became the aggressor, spent a good time of the half in the U.S. end. And at around the 80-minute mark of the match, Wales was threatening again. And American defender Walker Zimmerman slid under Welsh superstar forward Gareth Bale and took Bale down in the penalty box. That was a - that awarded Bale a penalty kick, and he converted. That made it one-al. And then it was a frantic last few minutes as both teams wanted to break this tie and get the points for a win, but neither was able to.
SHAPIRO: So at the World Cup, there are four teams in each group. And the top two in each group advance to the next round. What are the U.S.' chances of advancing given today's result?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it's going to be tough. No. 1, England is the best team in this four-team group. It's England, Wales, the U.S. and Iran. And England thumped Iran 6-2 today. And the U.S. plays England next, on Friday, so England has three points for the win. Both Wales and the U.S. have one point, and Iran has zero. So at this point, it really is a two-way fight, maybe a three-way fight for that second spot, and you want to get to that second spot so you can move out into the knockout rounds. So it is still to be determined. That's why we have two more matches. So check in later.
SHAPIRO: And there was also some controversy today involving the armbands the team captains wear. Tell us about that.
GOLDMAN: A half-dozen or more European club captains plan on wearing rainbow-colored armbands with the word OneLove written on them as a show of support for LGBTQ people. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and it's been a big issue, as you probably know, leading up to this event. But FIFA made it clear to these teams that if the captains went ahead and wore this armband, FIFA would penalize them with a yellow card, which - if you get another one in the group stage, you are disqualified. Teams didn't want to risk their captains being taken off the field, and they pulled back. They were not happy about it. A lot of fans weren't happy about it. You're hearing from fans and journalists that the captains should go ahead and take the risk because they have the power, but it probably won't happen. And FIFA and the Qatari officials won this one again, sadly.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Goldman in Doha, Qatar. Thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Ari.
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