USA and Wales in high-stakes opener

The United States and Wales will head into their opening World Cup clash on Monday (Tuesday 0600AEDT) knowing that victory could decide one of Group B's two qualifiers, with England heavy favourites to advance as group winners.

With a golden generation of talent spearheaded by Gareth Bale and playing at their first World Cup in 64 years, Wales will be out to echo their recent successes at European level, having reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals and the last 16 at Euro 2020.

Manager Rob Page called up nine Premier League-based players to his World Cup squad - which US coach Gregg Berhalter said the Americans must not underestimate, despite Wales's preparations being hampered by injuries to key players including Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey.

"I think that, at least to the American media, Wales is under-rated," Berhalter told reporters. "When I look at their squad, it's basically a Premier League squad.

"To me, it's a really good squad, a formidable squad. They've been in international competition before, they know what it's like. And it's going to be a very difficult game."

The US team endured a rocky run-up to Qatar and failed to score in September friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia, but Berhalter's youthful albeit unproven squad will look to silence critics when they return to the World Cup stage after eight years.

The Americans will be entering the contest with a rare clean bill of health with most of their first-choice squad healthy and available, and Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie will all be out to leave their mark in their first World Cup appearance.

With Page boasting a settled core of players, many of whom gained vital big-tournament experience through the last two European Championship campaigns, Wales will have reason for quiet confidence on their return to soccer's showpiece event.

Neco Williams and Brennan Johnson are among the younger talents who have stepped up of late, allowing Page to be less reliant on veterans Bale and Ramsey, although their form and fitness will still be vital to Wales's campaign in Qatar.

With the old guard finally realising their World Cup dream in the twilight of their careers, Ramsey paid tribute to former manager Gary Speed for laying the foundation for Wales's upturn in fortunes before his death in 2011.

"Gary is always in our thoughts with everything that we have done," Ramsey said. "If you look at where we are now, you can see it has Gary's fingerprints all over it. He was the one who got things moving for us."