Draw in Wales means Ireland top World Cup Qualifying Group

Wales have drawn 1-1 with Serbia in their World Cup qualifying Group D match at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Draw in Wales means Ireland top World Cup Qualifying Group

Wales 1 Serbia 1

Wales have drawn 1-1 with Serbia in their World Cup qualifying Group D match at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup have been dealt a severe blow as Aleksandar Mitrovic's late equaliser for Serbia denied them victory.

Despite a strong start from the visitors, Gareth Bale fired Wales ahead after the tireless Hal Robson-Kanu forced Serbia's Matija Nastasic into a mistake.

An occasionally scrappy but absorbing encounter saw chances at both ends and, just moments after Bale hit the post, Mitrovic headed in to stun the Cardiff City Stadium into silence.

With the Republic of Ireland's win in Austria taking them top of Group D, Serbia and Wales stay second and third - two and four points behind Martin O'Neill's men respectively.

Aaron Ramsey returned to make his first appearance in Wales' 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Serbia in Cardiff.

Ramsey was back after hamstring trouble and joined Joe Allen and Hal Robson-Kanu in three changes from last month's home draw against Georgia, with David Edwards, Andy King and the injured Ben Davies dropping out.

Serbia were without suspended Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolarov as Nemanja Matic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Nikola Maksimovic and Ivan Obradovic came into the side which won 3-0 in Moldova last month to sit top of Group D.

Slavoljub Muslin's side had lost top place at kick-off following the Republic of Ireland's win in Austria, but they held a two-point lead over Wales after starting the campaign with two wins and a draw.

Serbia also had a psychological advantage having recorded comprehensive 6-1 and 3-0 wins over Wales in 2014 World Cup qualifying - the latter the last time that Chris Coleman's side had lost a competitive game on home soil.

Coleman felt Wales had lacked their usual edge in the October draws against Austria and Georgia and his response was to change the formation by playing a flat back four rather than a three-man central defence.

There was a frantic opening to proceedings with Gareth Bale operating on the right of a three-man attack, but the Real Madrid forward drifted inside to engineer some space and drive over the crossbar.

Ramsey saw his shot blocked by Luka Milivojevic, but Serbia's noted counter-attacking threat surfaced for the first time when Filip Kostic sped through until James Chester intervened.

Branislav Ivanovic sent the resulting header goalwards with a firm header but Neil Taylor had stuck to his far post station to clear off the line.

Serbia, though, were growing into the game and Kostic issued another warning to Wales following another quick break from the visitors.

Wales were struggling to get Bale into the game and he was increasingly looking to roam to leave his mark on the action.

The move paid off on the half-hour mark when 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 for his 26th international goal and his fourth of this World Cup qualifying campaign.

Wales almost doubled their lead moments later when Ramsey fed Bale down the left and his cross was diverted just wide by Robson-Kanu at the far post.

The temperature was rising at the Cardiff City Stadium and Taylor caught Dusan Tadic with a high foot which left the Southampton player with a bloodied nose.

Bale went into the book of Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco for prolonged dissent over an earlier decision, and Wales were relieved to see goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey push out Matic's pile-driver on the stroke of half-time.

Serbia must have been fearing the worst when Wales won a free-kick 30 yards out at the start of the second period and Bale stood over the ball with a real sense of purpose.

Bale made a clean connection and the ball dipped awkwardly on the way to goal, but Stojkovic pushed it to safety.

Tadic was playing with cotton wool up his nostrils after his earlier injury but he was still pulling Serbian strings as the visitors tried to find a way back into the game.

There was menace in their possession but Wales were fighting for every ball and holding firm at the back.

But Joe Allen and Joe Ledley were both cautioned and Wales' need for fresh legs saw Tom Lawrence replace Robson-Kanu.

Serbia wanted a penalty when the ball struck Allen's arm on the edge of the area but the referee waved play on.

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