World Cup Qualifying: The story so far
International
1 August 2017

World Cup Qualifying: The story so far

Wales return to 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying against Austria next month, and with a sell-out crowd expected at Cardiff City Stadium for this crucial match, we take a look back at the Group D campaign to date as Chris Coleman's side head into the final four games still undefeated.

The campaign began last September when Moldova visited Cardiff to take on a Wales team still basking in the euphoria of France and the successful UEFA EURO 2016 finals. 

Chris Coleman emphasised after the semi-final defeat to Portugal that there was more to come from his side, and a 4-0 victory over Moldova to kicked-off the new campaign in spectacular style.

Goals from Sam Vokes and Joe Allen in the opening half were complimented by a Gareth Bale brace after the re-start, while elsewhere two group rivals dropped points in a 2-2 draw between Serbia and the Republic of Ireland. 

A superb volley from Joe Allen gave Wales the early advantage over Austria in Vienna in October, but two goals from Marko Arnautovic cancelled out Allen's strike and an own goal from Kevin Wimmer as both sides settled for a share of the points.

It was considered a positive point for Coleman's side, and the opportunity to build on an undefeated start presented itself a few days later when Georgia came to Cardiff City Stadium. However, despite Gareth Bale heading home early in the match, Georgia made it difficult for Wales and equalised midway through the second half to earn a surprising point as Serbia and the Republic of Ireland both picked up maximum points.

Aaron Ramsey made his long-awaited first appearance of the campaign against Serbia in Cardiff in November as the Arsenal midfielder struggled for fitness after picking up an injury at the start of the new domestic season.

Again, it Bale that gave Wales the lead in the opening half, but a late equaliser from Aleksander Mitrovic denied Wales victory.

Coleman conceded after the match that the physical and emotional strain of 2016 had finally caught-up with his side, while the Republic of Ireland continued their excellent form with a valuable 1-0 in Austria.

Still undefeated after four games, Wales went into the winter break ruing their inability to hold onto a lead.

The action resumed in Dublin in March as Wales faced the Republic of Ireland in a match Coleman's side could not really afford to lose.

A clean sheet ensured that Wales would take a share of the points, but it came at a price as defender Neil Taylor was sent off and Gareth Bale received his second caution of the campaign.

As a consequence, both players would be suspended for the next match against Serbia in Belgrade in June, while the point for Ireland kept them level with Serbia at the halfway stage of the competition and ahead of their home game with Austria.

A classy penalty from Aaron Ramsey gave Wales the lead in Belgrade, but it was Mitrovic once again that would earn Serbia a share of the points against Wales with a second half equaliser.

It was a committed performance from Wales despite the absence of the talismanic Bale, as the likes of Ramsey and Joe Allen stepped up to the mark.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland were held to a 2-2 draw by Austria in Dublin to leave Serbia above Martin O'Neill's side at the top of the group on goal difference. Wales now have four points to make up on the two teams above them in the final four games, and a much-needed victory over Austria after a string of frustrating draws would be the perfect boost at this stage of the campaign.