The football season is over for most European domestic leagues but decisive battles for the coming World Cup (hosted by Russia next year) are only just beginning. In what could be a crucial match for both sides, Serbia will host Wales this Sunday 11 June at the Red Star ground in Belgrade. The two sides have met ten times throughout history with Serbia having been victorious in six of those and four matches ending a draw. A staggering 24 to 11 goal difference favours the home team. The last meeting of the two teams was in November 2016 in Cardiff and ended in a 1-1 draw.
Serbia entered the group as third seeds after a dismal European campaign but now Serbia is undefeated and leads the way in the group D with eleven points from five games. This puts them level with the Republic of Ireland and four points clear of the rest of the pack. Serbia will try to extend their advantage and can rely on a victorious spirit in the team, the excellent recent form of their players and support of a full “Marakana” stadium. Also, as mentioned earlier, tradition is on their side as they are undefeated against Wales.
Serbia and Chelsea star, Nemanja Matić, said that this is one of the most important games in Serbian national football history. “We must accept the role of favourite on our home ground. I am expecting an exciting game and I believe in our quality.” His brother and teammate, Uroš Matić, added: “With the full stadium cheering for us there won’t be a lack of motivation and three points will be closer to us. To get that win, that is the only thing on our minds.”
Serbia defeat was catalyst for Wales success
It is almost impossible to fathom that there was a time when significant numbers of Welsh football fans were calling for manager Chris Coleman to be sacked. After leading Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Coleman’s place in history and status as a national treasure is assured, but it was almost so very different.
Coleman himself describes the game as a watershed moment in his managerial career, the point where he decided he had to forge his own path and stop trying to replicate the style of his predecessor and great friend, Gary Speed.
“It still haunts me, to be honest. But I think that’s quite good for me as well. You never want to experience that ever again. The last two times we played them (Serbia) we conceded nine goals – we’ve also got a bit to thank them for,” Coleman said before the November clash in Cardiff.
“Sometimes you need an electric prod and that certainly came from them,” he added.
The defeat in Novi Sad was the low point that sparked a Wales revival and now Coleman’s men return to Belgrade knowing their World Cup campaign once again hinges on an away game in Serbia.
Chris Coleman’s men face a tough trip to Serbia next Sunday without Real Madrid’s Champions League winning star, Gareth Bale, and Aston Villa defender, Neil Taylor, who are suspended for the clash after picking up cards in Wales goalless draw against Republic of Ireland in March.
Wales all-time leading goalscorer, Ian Rush, said: “It’s going to be hard without Gareth. He’ll be a big miss, but this is the time to dig in and fight when we go to Serbia. We can’t let the supporters down and we have to have a Plan B.”
With Wales stuck in third place in the qualifying group, the trip to Belgrade could be crucial for ‘The Dragons’.
The game kicks off at 8:45pm on Sunday 11 June.
You can purchase tickets directly at Red Star’s Rajko Mitić stadium or online at www.iticket.rs.