Wales face tough test on the road in Serbia

Halfway through 2018 World Cup qualifying group D, four draws in five games (coupled with a 4-0 win over Moldova in the opening game of the group) had left Wales four points adrift of both Saturday's hosts (having drawn 2-2 in Cardiff with them) and the Republic of Ireland at the top of the group.

The visitors had taken the lead through defender Martin Hinteregger in the 31st minute but might have left the Aviva Stadium with nothing had Shane Duffy's last-gasp effort not been ruled out.

Had Wales managed to hang on, or even find a victor after conceding the equliser, Ireland would be top of the group and one point clear of Serbia, but Wales would be sitting two points behind us.

Aaron Ramsey had given Wales a 35th-minute lead - his "Panenka" penalty coming at the same stadium where Czechoslovakia's Antonin Panenka had put his name in football folklore with a chipped spot-kick at the 1976 European Championship.

"But I don't think that would have been in Aaron's thinking".

Coleman regularly referred to Euro 2016 qualification as "our Holy Grail" after Wales had waited over half a century to appear at a major tournament.

"The games will come thick and fast when the new season starts, and if we get a good result in Serbia we can take the momentum into those games".

Robbie Savage, who played alongside Coleman for Wales, feels this match could be the pivotal moment of the qualifying campaign and could define the next two years for the country. But we can't look at anybody else.

"It's identical. It's what we thought as soon as he did it".

Wales might need to win their final four games just to secure second place and a play-off spot.

Allen drove through the midfield and slid a ball through for Ramsey on the right side of the box, but he was denied by Vladmir Stojkovic who made a crucial save with his legs at the near post.

"We've tried to use all the positives of last summer and I hope we'll be able to do that throughout our careers", said Allen. We expect to see a closely-contested clash which will go down the wire.

But the attempt seemed to stir Serbia from their lethargy and Wales were grateful to clear Antonio Rukavina's cross as the decibel levels were turned up.

Star man Gareth Bale is missing through suspension and James Collins, Neil Taylor, Andy King and Hal Robson-Kanu are also absent. In fact, that disappointing 1-1 draw against Austria was only good enough to make them table-toppers for a couple of hours until Serbia welcomed Wales to the lion's den.

"I think we learned a lot from Serbia five years ago when we were beaten heavily, so we knew we had to come here and play hard, " Coleman said.

Ireland's next fixture is away to Georgia, and that has become an absolutely massive game in the context of this group.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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