Good evening everyone and thank you for joining us as we provide you with live coverage of Serbia's World Cup
qualifying clash with Wales at the Stadion Rajko Mitic in Belgrade.
Tonight's contest carries significant weight for Chris Coleman
and his charges as they aim to get what has been a stuttering qualification back on track with three difficult points on the road.
Following on from a remarkable semi-final showing at Euro 2016 in France last summer, qualification for the World Cup in Russia has been a different prospect for the Dragons altogether. As it stands, Wales currently sit in third place in Group D, four points behind group leaders Serbia and second-placed Republic of Ireland with just five games remaining.
Defeat tonight in Serbia will most likely be the end of the country's hopes of reaching a successive major tournament. Recent performances have been a far cry from what Wales were able to produce in France. The Dragons have recorded four consecutive draws in the group after failing to find a way past Austria, Georgia, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland.
Coleman might just be happy with another point here, however, given his side's recent history when completing against Serbia. History shows that Wales have never beaten Serbia, Serbia and Montenegro or Yugoslavia, while their most recent visit to this part of Europe saw them on the end of a humiliating defeat. The Dragons were thrashed 6-1 by Serbia in 2012 during Coleman's start at the helm, although you would have to argue that his charges have come along way since that watershed moment.
History is against Wales here and so too is the number of injuries Coleman is currently having to deal with. As things stand, a suspended Gareth Bale
will be missing this evening, while Hal Robson-Kanu
, Ben Woodburn
, Andy King
and James Collins
are all injured. Added to that, left-back Neil Taylor
is also missing following his horrendous challenge on Seamus Coleman earlier in March.
Time for some team news now...
SERBIA STARTING XI: Stojkovic; Rukavina, Ivanovic, Nastasic, Kolarov; Vukovic, Milivojevic, Matic; Kostic, Mitrovic, Tadic
SERBIA SUBSTITUTES: Obradovic, Gudelj, Tosic, Spajic, Gacinovic, Pavlovic, Katai, Kosanovic, Mitrovic, Rajkovic, Prijovic, Jovanovic
WALES STARTING XI: Hennessey; Gunter, Chester, Williams, Davies, Richards; Allen, Ledley, Ramsey, Edwards; Vokes
WALES SUBSTITUTES: Ward, Williams, Walsh, Lockyer, Jones, Huws, Evans, Wilson, Lawrence, James, Bradshaw, Watkins
So the major news for Wales is that Sam Vokes
has been trusted to earn his 50th cap up top for the visitors, as he takes the role of a lone frontman in place of Bale. Behind him, Coleman has opted for a dynamic midfield that will see Aaron Ramsey
and Joe Allen
take creative roles a little deeper.
Wales fans might have been hoping of some detrimental injury news among the Serbia squad, but that isn't the case and the home side are at pretty much full strength here. The Premier League is well represented in Serbia's starting XI, with Luka Milivojevic
, Nemanja Matic
and Dusan Tadic
all getting starts. Serbia are leading with a frontline that also includes Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic
In their three previous meetings, Serbia have won twice and there has been one draw. Added to that, this Serbia side has not lost a competitive fixture since suffering defeat against Portugal in October 2015.
There is some hope for Wales, though, especially when looking at Serbia's recent friendly fixtures. Slavoljub Muslin's side have drawn and lost their most recent two friendly contests. Wales were also able to pick up a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Serbia when the sides met during the reverse of this fixture in November of last year.
You cannot ignore Bale's absence here. In fact, Wales have not played a competitive fixture without Bale featuring since 2013 when his side drew 1-1 with Belgium.
One man who could be key for this away clash tonight is full-back Chris Gunter
. The right-sided defender will have an important role to play given his experience for Wales. Gunter's appearances tonight now sees him as Wales' joint-third most capped player in history alongside fan-favourite forward Craig Bellamy
The vital area for Wales to watch this evening will be the space occupied by Southampton's Tadic. The playmaker has been directly involved in 11 of Serbia's 12 goals in qualifying so far, having scored four and created a further seven goals for his country during the Group D campaign.
Just as an aside, it is absolutely stifling in Belgrade this evening with the travelling Welsh contingent having to put up with heat pushing 30 degrees Celsius. Despite having a running track circling the pitch and separating fans from the game's edge, the Stadion Rajko Mitic has become a notable difficult place to pick up results. Wales will be needing to change that tonight should they want to pull things back into their own hands for the remainder of qualification.
Another slight consideration that will be in the back of Coleman's mind surrounds potential suspensions. Five of Wales' starting XI here are all just a booking away from a ban and that could cause serious problems looking ahead should the Dragons be able to get anything out of this away fixture.
Wales playmaker Allen does not seem phased by the challenge tonight, though, despite being involved during that humiliating defeat back in 2012 too. Here's what the Stoke City midfielder has had to say during the build-up, according to BBC Sport: "We see it as a chance to tackle that challenge and we are confident we still have enough in that squad to go out there and get a good result."
Coleman has just been speaking to the press too and his had this to say about his side's chances going into the match: "We are missing one or two but that gives opportunities. We will match up with Serbia in a formation we have been playing in the last few years. Our boys are well versed tactically. This will be a chess match. We have to be streetwise. We can't tear around the pitch, we have to be mentally wise and smart. The game lasts for 95 minutes, we know that. We can't lose tonight."
Here's a quick shot doing the rounds on Twitter from a little earlier, showing the Stadion Rajko Mitic slowly filling up ahead of kickoff:
Much has been made of Coleman's time at the helm of Welsh football and he has made it abundantly clear that this coming tournament would be his last in the role. Should Wales lose tonight, this could well be his final game in charge given some of the inferences the coach has made in the past. That sort of seems ludicrous given what he was able to achieve during Wales' time at Euro 2016 last summer.
Here's an interesting statistic for you... Former Chelsea full-back and Serbia veteran Branislav Ivanovic
would become his country's joint second-highest scorer of all time with 12 goals should he find a way past Wayne Hennessey tonight.
PREDICTION! Right, we're just under 15 minutes from kickoff in Belgrade and it's time to make a prediction. This stadium often proves a testing place to travel to and that difficulty will certainly be compounded given Wales' recent form and the country's problematic injury concerns. Having said that, this unit of Wales players have proved on countless occasions that they are capable of producing what's required, even when the odds are against them. With that in mind, I'm backing Wales to steal a point here and keep their dwindling hopes of qualification just about alive. Both sides are likely to score: 1-1 come the end of 90 minutes...
The Dragons will be motivated too given the Republic of Ireland's 1-1 draw with Austria a little earlier this evening. That pushes Wales down into fourth momentarily, but should they win here they would be only two points off top spot and two clear of chasing Austria too.
As mentioned earlier, this stadium holds a great atmosphere and things are starting to feel rather feisty already with both sets of fans in full song. Not long to go now, just a couple of minutes.
Here they come then, the players emerge from the tunnel to a monumental roar. It's now time for the national anthems and then we'll be off. Cue lots of out-of-time miming from both sets of players.
KICKOFF! Wales are featuring in their black and grey away strip, while Serbia don full red at home. The visitors get us moving here, kicking from right to left. We're in for a corker, surely!
The visitors enjoy some comforting early possession under a throng of jeers from the home fans. Edwards finds space on the left flank and hangs a cross up into the box, although there is very little effort to meet the ball and Stojkovic comes out to gather with ease.
Gunter shows some early positivity down the right and is able to win a corner for Wales. The ball into the box finds Williams scrambling towards the back-post, but his free header is sent into the ground and wide without troubling Stojkovic. He might have done a little better there, it was a decent half chance for the Everton centre-back.
Wales do well to snatch possession just inside the Serbia half and Vokes gallops away at pace in order to put pressure on the home defence. Ramsey peels away to his right and begs for the through-ball. His teammate tries to deliver although his pass is just a little under-cooked and Nastasic is able to get a vital foot in. Positive signs already for the Dragons!
Serbia have just started to settle and are aiming to exploit the flanks. Tadic does well to break away down the right channel, but he is met by some stern defending from Richards at left-back, who ushers the ball out for a throw. The full-back will have to be on his game tonight given the pace in the home side.
Lots of keep-ball at the moment from both sides, especially in the middle of the park. The formations look pretty well matched at the moment. Kostic does superbly on the left as he cuts inside to deliver a cross towards the head of a lurking Mitrovic, leaving Chester to make a strong headed clearance in the middle of the box with Williams already beaten to the ball.
Ramsey shows a productive turn of pace on the ball to get past Rukavina, before being fouled. Richards then finds himself brought down by the Serbia defender, leaving the visitors with a free kick in a good position. Ramsey delivers into the area, but his whipped delivery is disappointedly overhit and sails out for a goal kick. They'll need to make better use of those set-pieces should they want to come away from here with a positive result.
Gunter is absolutely furious with the officials as he makes great strides down the right flank. It looks like he has the beating of Vukovic, but ends up falling to the deck in rather dramatic fashion. The referee is having none of it and waves play on, much to the dismay of the 27-year-old.
Coleman will be pleased with what he has seen so far. The visitors have looked far from over-roared and have been able to venture forward positively without being harmed too much at the back. Ramsey has looked creative when given room and Wales have shuffled compactly when required to stifle Serbia when they move into attack.
Chester gets caught slightly flat-footed and Tadic almost gets the perfect cross into the box. From the resulting corner, Serbia can only find the back of Richards who clears without too much notice. The following set-piece sees the visitors eventually scramble things clear via Davis after a rather poor delivery from the left side. This game has lacked that little bit of cutting edge so far...
Vokes has had very little service in these opening stages of the contest. The frontman comes deep to try and win a neat knock-down, but is soon flagged for offside after competing well to win the ball. That's sort of been the story of Wales' forward play at the moment.
Ivanovic is searching for his record-equalling goal already as he winds up from distance, although his effort goes high and wide with Hennessey unmoved. The home side haven't created too much going forward. Most of the positive stuff has handed to come through Tadic and Kostic. Rukavina does really well this time to beat Richards before sending an enticing ball into the box. Luckily for Wales, Mitrovic is just a couple of inches out and his slide ends up in vain.
Wales are under the cosh now as red shirts swarm forward and an almost-telling ball is whipped into the box. After a bit of pin-balling, Gunter hacks the danger away much to the relief of his teammates. The home side are starting to look a little more dangerous in attack.
YELLOW CARD! Dreadful goalkeeping from Stojkovic who charges out to challenge Ramsey. The Welshman gets past the keeper and is then brought down just outside of the penalty area, leaving Wales with a free kick in a perfect position.
PENALTY TO WALES!
GOAL! SERBIA 0-1 WALES (AARON RAMSEY PEN)
What a huge goal this could be for Wales! From that resulting corner the ball is turned into the box, where Sam Vokes
has his shirt tugged, leaving the referee to point straight to the spot with little complaint from the Serbia players. After some brilliant work to win the initial free kick, Ramsey steps up to produce the most outlandish of panenkas to send Stojkovic the wrong way and a looping ball spinning into the top corner. That might be one of the best penalties I have ever laid my lucky eyes on...
CLOSE! Serbia come back with real force now as Ivanovic gets the better of Ramsey down the right. The ball is driven into the middle for the run of Matic, although Williams has other ideas as he produces a wonderful interception at the death in order to prevent the Chelsea midfielder from stabbing an effort towards goal.
How do Wales manage this game going forward now? They're not exactly setup for the counter, but that might come in handy should Serbia begin to open up and go for an equaliser in the second half. How Bale would have relished this position...
CLOSE! Kolarov shows a superb turn of pace into the left channel and drills a thunderous ball towards the penalty area. Thankfully Chester gets across in time to make a vital interception and Wales somehow survive...
HALF TIME: SERBIA 0-1 WALES
What a first half... Everything you'd want from international football. Both sides have been solid defensively and the game has been opened up by a brilliant piece of magic. Things have been relatively even across the first 45 minutes, but Ramsey's heroics have given the visitors a much-needed edge as they aim to get themselves back into the qualification reckoning.
Serbia, especially through Kolarov and Tadic, have shown signs of increasing productivity down the flanks and Wales will need to be careful going into the second period. The hosts are only likely to create more after the break and Coleman's charges are likely going to need to defend astutely should they want to leave the Stadion Rajko Mitic with three invaluable points. There's certainly a lot more to come in this fixture...
SECOND HALF! We're back underway in Serbia. The home side lump the ball forward at the first opportunity, leaving Hennessey to throw himself off the line in order to thwart the cross into his box. The home side are up and at it after the first kick.
The hosts have come out of the traps flying in this second period and Wales already have their collective back against the wall. Much of the home side's joy is coming down the left flank with balls being sent into the box. There's a potential call for a penalty as Serbia believe Gunter has handled the ball in the box. Replays suggest that the ball simply struck the defender at close range following an attempted cross from Tadic. Nothing in it, really.
Wales find some relief down the left channel where Ramsey makes room for a cross. The ball is sent towards the back-post for Edwards, but he doesn't quite have the nouse to trouble Vukovic, who allows the ball to come across his body and run out of play for a goal kick.
Back come Serbia once more as they take possession from Wales with relative ease. This second half is going to feel like an eternity if the visitors are unable to get their foot on the ball. Kostic is causing all sorts of bother on the left channel at the moment. Gunter has matched him pretty well, but he is getting far too many balls into the box unchallenged.
YELLOW CARD! Needless really... Allen goes into the book for a late one on Kostic and he'll now miss Wales' next game against Austria.
CLOSE! Kolarov is the man standing over the free kick and the full-back produces a wonderful, bending effort that just about evades Hennessey's top corner and edges over the crossbar, much to the relief of every Wales fan inside the stadium.
This is what Wales need! Gunter makes up some wonderful ground on the right channel to support Ramsey on the counter. The full-back produces a teasing, chipped delivery towards the back-post for the run of Richards, but Vukovic makes the clearance. From the resulting corner, Vokes rises highest but sends his thumper header just inches over the bar from close range. More than a half chance, that's for sure.
Fine margins here. Tadic picks up possession inside the box and aims to turn and shoot, although Ledley produces a wonderful interception to thwart the Southampton forward when he almost has a clear sight at goal.
Do Wales really need to do this? The visitors break forward in numbers through Ramsey and he almost has the beating of the defence, until Matic gets back to clear the danger. Serbia have the opportunity to spring a counter, but Gudelj is unable to pick out the all-important forward pass.
SUBSTITUTION: A strange one if you ask me... Kostic is replaced by Aleksandar Prijovic as the frontman comes on to give the home side a little more direct firepower around the box. Kostic had looked lively, though, and was at the heart of most things positive during the first hour of this game.
YELLOW CARD! Cheeky... Richards goes into the book now for an apparent delaying tactic - holding up for too long while taking a throw. A little too early to be time wasting if you ask me.
CLOSE! Wales win a cheap corner that is sent into the area before breaking towards Allen at the back-post. The midfielder aims to drill one back across the face of goal, leaving Serbia to get a foot in at the vital moment.
SUBSTITUTION: Wales make a change and Edwards is replaced by youngster Emyr Huws.
GOAL! SERBIA 1-1 WALES (ALEKSANDAR MITROVIC)
If you give this man a chance, he'll usually grasp it with both hands. Wales finally get undone with a simple ball beyond Davis and he has no response as the ball breaks beyond the back-line. A short scramble leaves Prijovic in possession, and he produces a delightful back-heel to find Mitrovic who is able to slip in behind. With just Hennessey to beat, the frontman makes no mistake with a powerful finish into the side of goal.
It's not game over for Wales, just keep that in mind. A point away from home would keep them firmly in the hunt with a couple more games to go during qualification, but they now have a massive task on their hands trying to keep out Serbia in these closing moments to secure that draw.
SAVE! What a chance... Allen walks hazily through the home defence before producing a standout through-ball for the run of Ramsey. The Arsenal man finds himself out wide but only has Stojkovic to beat, although the keeper does brilliantly to keep out the Welshman's stabbed effort down low.
The Serbian train just keeps on coming. Another wave moves down the right channel this time where the ball is drilled into the box. It strikes Chester and leads to call for a handball, but those shouts are ambitious and the referee waves play on. Can Wales hold out here?
CLOSE! Rukavina is at it again on the right channel and he chips a dangerous cross towards the back-post. Hennessey isn't sure whether to come for it or not and decides to stay on his line. Mitrovic is left to greet the ball with his header, but he sends his effort wide of the target with the Wales stopper looking a little stranded.
We're going to have three additional minutes in Belgrade...
Ramsey and Allen have been nothing short of inspirational here. They're both at it again defensively as they snap at the ankles of the Serbian midfield to break up possession and relieve the stress on Wales' defence.
FULL TIME: SERBIA 1-1 WALES
What a vital point this could prove to be for Wales as they just about cling onto their hopes for qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia. Three points would have been an incredible achievement, but Coleman will likely be satisfied that his side are still in the running after such a tricky away tie this evening. That is going to be all from me, thank you for joining us!