By James Lloyd at the Cardiff City Stadium
Aleksander Mitrovic’s 85th minute header denied Wales a crucial win as the two Group D teams battled out a tense 1-1 draw at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Gareth Bale had given Wales the lead with a low strike in the first-half, but Serbia left it late as Newcastle forward Mitrovic nodded in Antonio Rukavina’s looping cross.
Just minutes prior to the equaliser, Bale struck the post with a right-footed strike.
Wales desperately needed a victory after their 1-1 draw with Georgia a month ago did them no favours in their quest to reach Russia’s 2018 finals. And the Republic of Ireland’s shock 1-0 win away in Austria earlier in the evening, meant three points would be even more valuable.
It proved to be a first-half that lacked any quality from two teams with Bale finding the first real shot as he saw his strike sail high over the crossbar.
But it was Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic who had Serbia’s best chance of the half, but his header was cleared off the line by Neil Taylor.
Wales sat back as Serbia continued to test and probe in and around their box, but were left reeling after Matija Nastasic’s costly error.
The former Manchester City defender was too calm near his own area and was dispossessed by Hal Robson-Kanu. He found Bale who did the rest with a drilled strike under Vladimir Stojkovic in the Serbia net.
And it nearly got even better for Wales minutes later. Bale turned provider for Robson-Kanu but his header glanced wide at the far post.
Dusan Tadic temporality departed the field after he was booted in the head by full-back Taylor and received treatment for a bloody nose.
After the break, Bale tested Stojkovic with a free-kick but that proved to be a rare chance for the home side.
At the other end it was a similar story as Serbia lacked any potency up front leaving Wayne Hennessey in the Wales net with a quiet game. The red brick wall, commanded by captain Ashley Williams, in front of the Crystal Palace ‘keeper put a halt to a number of visiting attacks.
Aaron Ramsey took a ball to the groin; as a wincing chorus of breath sighed at his misfortune.
Serbia created a half-chance with ten minutes to go, but Rukavina had his head in his hands after his glancing cross failed to meet a white shirt in the six-yard box.
Bale was denied a double at the death as his shot trickled past Stojkovic. But there was no such hard luck for Serbia, as Mitrovic snatched away the three points from Wales after he delicately headed in Rukavina’s cross.
Wales: Hennessey 6, Gunter 6, Williams 8, Chester 6, Taylor 6, Allen 6, Ledley 6 (Edwards 83, 5), Ramsey 7, Robson-Kanu 6 (Lawrence 67, 6), Bale 7, Vokes 6.
Gair Rhydd Sport Man of the Match: Ashley Williams (Wales)