World Cup column: Savage - "No doubt that Gareth Bale is the best Wales player of all time after huge World Cup goal"

Bale stepped up to hammer home the equaliser against the USA from the spot after winning a late penalty to take his tally to 41 international goals - and Savage also discusses the Kieffer Moore-Dan James situation.

By Alex Bowmer Published: 23 November 2022 - 8.57am
Gareth Bale celebrates after equalising for Wales against the USA

Former Wales international Robbie Savage believes compatriot Gareth Bale is his country's greatest-ever player after the 33-year-old scored the Dragons' first World Cup goal in 64 years to level late on against the USA. 

Bale was subdued for much of the contest on the occasion of his 109th cap - matching Chris Gunter's mark for the men's national team - but he came to life in the closing stages, winning a penalty off Walker Zimmerman before hammering home from 12 yards as the Red Wall in Lusail erupted. 

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Speaking exclusively to BT Sport, Savage said: "Bale didn’t have a great game, but whilst he’s on the pitch, you’ve got a chance.

"He used his body great for the penalty, and then to have the confidence to stick it in the top corner... it had to be in the top corner because the keeper got a hand to it.

"Bale once again showed his leadership qualities and in big moments, there’s nobody else you’d want on the pitch [instead of him].

"Everyone talks about [the quality of] John Charles. I didn’t have the pleasure to see him. I’ve played with Ian Rush, my hero Mark Hughes, some of the greats – Gary Speed, Ryan Giggs – but I think [given] what Gareth Bale has done for Wales, he’s the best-ever Welsh player, no doubt about it."

After a first half that the Stars and Stripes dominated, Rob Page decided to withdraw Dan James and bring on Kieffer Moore, a change that gave Wales much more of a focal point, with the AFC Bournemouth striker's header narrowly missing the target midway through the second period. 

While Savage believes that Moore seems in a strong position to be selected from the start against Iran, he doesn't feel that Page was necessarily wrong to have started Monday's match with James. 

"[Page] thought the best way to exploit the lack of pace in the USA back four was to play James. That didn’t work and the USA dominated the first half and deservedly scored, but credit to Page, making big decisions at his first World Cup.

"He brought on Kieffer Moore, [who] added that physical presence, stretched them a little bit and we had more control of the game. 

"It was pivotal, that 45 minutes, the tactical change from Page, and people will say “was it a mistake not starting Moore?”, but you [can] look at it one of two ways.

"Was it good management to leave him out, bring him on and get a point, or people might say if you start Kieffer Moore, you might win the game. It’s all hypothetical.

Kieffer Moore traps the ball under pressure from Tim Ream
Kieffer Moore had a notable impact on the game after replacing Dan James at half-time

"On the performance, Daniel James didn’t do anything wrong, it was just the fact that it needed to be changed. 

"Will Moore start [against Iran]? It all depends on how Page and his team see that game going.

"Will it be a case for 45 minutes of trying to tire out the Iran defenders and then bring on Moore once again, or will it be, if they’ve got a physical presence at the back, Moore for 60 minutes and then utilise the pace of James? It’s a very difficult one, but in terms of his performance, you would suggest that Moore starts."

Many people had the winner of USA-Wales down as firm favourites to qualify second from Group B, so a draw leaves things fascinatingly poised going into the second round of fixtures, although Savage believes that his nation have the psychological advantage over Gregg Berhalter's men. 

"It was a must-not-lose game [against the USA]. Now, with England playing the USA in the next game and Wales-Iran, if we can four points going into that England game, we’ve got a chance of qualifying. 

"If USA had got the three points, they would have just had to beat Iran unless Wales beat England, which I don’t think [is] likely with the way England played [in the 6-2 win over Iran], but you never know in tournament football: we've just seen Argentina go 1-0 up against Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia win the game 2-1. 

"[Iran] are ranked 20th in the world, but they were very, very poor [against England]. Wales will have to be on their guard defensively, but if they don’t beat Iran, they don’t deserve to go through."