Welsh hopes dented

> Bale goal not enough to win the match af­ter Ser­bia’s late equaliser

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

WALES suf­fered a World Cup blow as Ser­bia struck late on at the Cardiff City Sta­dium to earn a 1-1 draw. Gareth Bale’s 26th Wales goal – which moved him to within two of Ian Rush’s na­tional record – looked like hand­ing Chris Cole­man’s side three pre­cious points in Group D.

But New­cas­tle striker Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic headed an equaliser five min­utes from time, which Wales goal­keeper Wayne Hen­nessey was un­able to claw out af­ter the ball had struck the post.

That was par­tic­u­larly cruel on a Wales side who had seen Bale hit the wood­work at the other end only 50 sec­onds ear­lier.

Mitro­vic’s goal could re­ally hurt Wales in the fi­nal World Cup reck­on­ing as the Dragons now trail new group lead­ers Re­pub­lic of Ire­land by four points.

Wales’ next World Cup test is in Dublin at the end of March and that game now takes on huge sig­nif­i­cance.

It is a game Wales sim­ply can not lose if they are to en­joy a suc­cess­ful jour­ney on the road to Rus­sia.

Ser­bia had lost top place at kick­off fol­low­ing the Re­pub­lic’s win in Aus­tria, but their two-point lead over Wales was backed up by a psy­cho­log­i­cal ad­van­tage from a win in 2014 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing.

Wales had lost those games 6-1 and 3-0 with man­ager Chris Cole­man ad­mit­ting he is still haunted by the night­mare in Novi Sad which was one of the na­tion’s heav­i­est ever de­feats.

Ser­bia’s 3-0 win in Cardiff in Septem­ber 2013 was also the last time that Wales had lost a com­pet­i­tive game on home soil, and there was an edge to the Welsh open­ing which Cole­man felt had been miss­ing in the Oc­to­ber draws against Aus­tria and Ge­or­gia.

Cole­man went against type by play­ing a flat back four rather than his usual three-man cen­tral de­fence, with Bale given a li­cence to roam but pri­mar­ily utilised down the right flank

Bale had an early shoot­ing op­por­tu­nity which cleared the bar and the re­turn­ing Aaron Ram­sey saw his shot blocked by Luka Milivo­je­vic, but Ser­bia’s noted counter-at­tack­ing threat soon be­gan to sur­face.

Filip Kos­tic spied an open­ing un­til James Ch­ester in­ter­vened, but from the re­sult­ing cor­ner Branislav Ivanovic’s header re­quired the pres­ence of Neil Tay­lor on the far post for the dead­lock to re­main.

But Wales were ahead af­ter 31 min­utes when Hal Rob­son-Kanu mus­cled Matija Nas­ta­sic off the ball and laid it in to Bale’s path in a cen­tral po­si­tion.

Bale shifted it on to his favoured left foot and drilled it low past Vladimir Sto­jkovic, with the Ser­bia stop­per feel­ing he might have done more to keep the ef­fort out.

It was Bale’s fourth goal of this World Cup cam­paign. – The In­de­pen­dent

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