A CHANGE of system in the back line, forced on Wales through injuries, hampered their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Serbia at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Despite taking the lead through Gareth Bale in the 30th minute, Wales were unable to hold on to the win. Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic scored in the 85th minute to deny Wales a vital three points.
Despite a strong start from Serbia, Wales took the lead on the half-hour mark.
Hal Robson-Kanu lived up to his cult hero status as he harried defender Nastasic into his own corner, before stealing the ball and finding Bale on the edge of the area. Bale made no mistake, and his low shot beat keeper Stojkovic to give Wales the lead.
Both sides had chances in the second-half of a tense, scrappy game. The best chance to secure the win fell to Bale in the 84th minute, but he could only find the post with a low shot from the corner of the penalty box.
Wales were left to rue that miss when, a minute later, Mitrovic’s glancing header found the back of the net with the help of the upright.
Joe Ledley took home the man of the match award with a tireless midfield display.
Wales remain unbeaten in group D, but their frustration was evident at the final whistle. With only one team able to qualify automatically from the group, Wales know they can ill afford to drop points.
This was Wales’ third draw in a row, and leaves them third in the table with six points from four games.
The Republic of Ireland’s win in Austria took them to the top of the group and Wales face them next at Lansdowne Road. With four points separating the teams, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown.
Wales changed their tactics against Serbia as injuries to key defender Ben Davies and back-up defender James Collins forced manager Chris Coleman’s hand.
The home team lined up with a flat four at the back instead of their usual back three. The system left Wales looking narrow, and Coleman will surely return to his favoured tactic as soon as possible.
Wales were bolstered by the return of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Stoke’s Joe Allen, who were sorely missed in the fixture against Georgia. Ramsey has recently returned from injury, and looked off the pace at times despite lasting the full 90 minutes.
Serbia have become something of a bogey team for Chris Coleman’s men. Wales have lost their last two meetings against the Serbs 6-1 and 3-0. Unbeaten in the group, Serbia look a force to be reckoned with, despite not qualifying for a major tournament since 2010. The result puts them second in the group, two points behind leaders Ireland.
- Wales travel to face the Republic of Ireland on Friday March 24.