Cymru Culture

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Russell Todd; next up... Serbia

(June 01, 2017)

Pêl-droed Cymru - Wales football:
Next up... Serbia

Cymru-Wales, at Cardiff City Stadium

Wales travel to Belgrade on 11th June to play their second consecutive away game against top of the table opponents; this time it's Serbia. At the end of March Wales travelled to Ireland and though the goalless draw pegged Ireland back after their good start to the campaign, Serbia’s victory in Georgia allowed them to ascend to the group’s summit.


2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group D

 Pos  Team  Pld    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD    Pts 


5  3 2 0 12  +6  11 

  Republic of Ireland  

5   2 0  +4   11 


5  1
4 0   +4 


5  2 1 2  +1   


5  0 2 3 -4   


5  0 1 4 2 13  -11 


At the campaign outset, a point in Dublin to accompany the point won in Vienna, would have been graciously accepted. In the group’s current context though their value is diminished by the points dropped at home to Georgia and Serbia. With Georgia the weaker of this pair, to some it might appear that this is the poorer result; but I would contend that dropping points to a group rival is the more costly. If Aleksander Mitrović’s 86th minute equaliser (seconds after Gareth Bale hit the post) had not been conceded, Wales and Serbia would be topping the table on 10 points each. It is such small margins that distinguish this campaign from its predecessor. Nevertheless Wales remain unbeaten in the group and have only been at risk of losing in the Georgia game, when a rare lack of urgency and sloppiness crept into the team’s mindset.

Wales celebrate their second goal against Austria, 6 October 2016  Photographer: Benutzer Steindy
Wales celebrate their second goal against Austria, 6 October 2016
Photographer: Benutzer Steindy

Small margins can also be found in the closer inspection of this unbeaten run. Wales have impressively lost only once in 17 qualifiers, and only three times in 23 competitive games including Euro 2016. On the other hand, since that balmy – and frankly barmy – night in Lille, Wales have only one solitary win in six competitive games: against Moldova, ranked 158th in the world and with only 6 UEFA countries ranked beneath them. A draw in Belgrade will do little to discern which is the more telling interpretation of the current run

By the time of kick off in Belgrade the Ireland-Austria fixture will have finished and the result will have the power to enhance or undermine a positive result for Wales in Belgrade. If Wales draw while Ireland win, the latter move six points ahead with only four to play. Away wins in both fixtures will see four teams separated by only a single point. It is a pivotal round of fixtures and one in which Bale will be unavailable. The attrition in Dublin took its toll on both teams. Seamus Coleman, Ireland’s one true top class player, was the biggest victim and Neil Taylor’s red card for his crude challenge on Coleman was fully deserved. That Wales will be deprived of his services for only two games was both a surprise and a relief given the potential ban and the lack of sympathy Wales have received in the past at the hands of UEFA. The yellow for Bale is far more costly.

Chris Coleman at Austria v Wales, 6 October 2016  Photographer: Benutzer Steindy
Chris Coleman
at Austria v Wales, 6 October 2016

Photographer: Benutzer Steindy

Wales have not played a competitive game without Bale in three and a half years and almost the entirety of those 23 competitive games, when Bale missed three of the final four games of the unsuccessful 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. The game he did play was as a substitute in the pitiful 3-0 home defeat to... Serbia, giving the Serbs an aggregate score of 9-1 against Wales in that campaign. That defeat came days after a defeat in Macedonia. In hindsight the grief at the loss of Gary Speed remained a heavy burden on a young team and Chris Coleman’s belated adoption of his own approach to managing the team was still in transition. Feted though Coleman is now thanks to the heroics at Euro 2016, there were doubts in late 2014 about how much longer he would have as manager. But the following, final, round of fixtures saw a more resolute Wales. Avenging defeat in Macedonia and a makeshift team snatching a late draw in Belgium saved Coleman’s job and suggested Wales had developed the resolve necessary for international competition. Aaron Ramsey was excellent in both games – instrumental in Simon Church’s winner against Macedonia and scoring the equaliser in Brussels – and in Bale’s absence he will have to shoulder Wales’ creative burden in Belgrade.

The likes of Boaz Myhill, Sam Ricketts, Darcy Blake, Andrew Crofts, Steve Morison and an injury-ravaged Danny Gabbidon faced Serbia in those fixtures, proof that the squad has evolved for the better in the three seasons since. The current vintage have spoken of their desire to make history rather than repeat that of their predecessors. In qualifying for France and then lighting it up with such aplomb, they have made true on this promise. To that end, Wales' woeful record over the years in the Balkans will matter little to the squad Coleman selects. Nevertheless it merits closer inspection given the difficulty that Yugoslavia and subsequently Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia have posed Wales. The only blemish in the last campaign was the 2-0 defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica and it is the latest of 26 games dating back to 1953 in which Wales has triumphed only twice, and never on Balkan soil, losing 16 times.

Chris Gunter winning his 75th cap for Wales in Austria, 6 October 2016 (now 78 caps), Photographer: Benutzer Steindy
Chris Gunter
winning his 75th cap for Wales in Austria, 6 October 2016 (now 78 caps)
Photographer: Benutzer Steindy

The defeat in the industrial outpost of Zenica was of little consequence that night once news had filtered in from Jerusalem that Cyprus had beaten Israel. It meant that 58 years of qualification failure had been exorcised, enabling Wales to make its European Championships debut at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux to face Slovakia. The date? 11th June 2016. And a first win in the former Yugoslavia twelve months to the day later would see another welcome record dating back to the 1950s exorcised.

Russell Todd, June 2017

If you enjoyed this you will probably like these from Russell too:
     Next up... Dublin; March 2017
     Pêl-droed: the beautiful country's beautiful game; December 2016

Russell Tweets as @llannerch
his website is:
and he is one of the team Tweeting on Podcast Pêl-droed

Podcast Pêl-droed's website is:


cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2017

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