Wales draw as Spain, Italy stay neck and neck in World Cup qualifying

Paris (AFP) – Aaron Ramsey’s penalty helped Wales to a precious 1-1 draw in Serbia in World Cup qualifying on Sunday as they kept their hopes of a place at the finals in Russia alive.

Chris Coleman’s side were missing star man Gareth Bale due to suspension in Belgrade but Arsenal midfielder Ramsey inspired the visitors into a half-time lead when he floated in a 35th-minute penalty, sending goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way.

Ramsey had helped win the penalty by forcing Stojovic into a foul just outside the box as the goalkeeper tried to shepherd the ball behind for a goal-kick — from Joe Ledley’s resulting delivery, Sam Vokes was fouled as he tried to head the ball.

However, substitute Aleksandar Prijovic set up Aleksandar Mitrovic to fire past Wayne Hennessey and equalise in the 73rd minute as Serbia stayed top of qualifying Group D.

“It was a great point. They huffed and puffed a little bit but it wasn’t like they were peppering Wayne Hennessey,” Coleman told Sky Sports.

“You expect a tough game here. Everything I asked of the players they did it. That’s the type of togetherness these boys have got.”

Wales are still unbeaten in the group but this was a fifth straight draw and they are third, four points behind both Serbia and the Republic of Ireland, and level on points with Austria in fourth.

Only the group winners qualify automatically for next year’s finals, with the eight best runners-up in the nine groups going into play-offs for the last four spots.

Ireland came from behind to draw 1-1 with Austria earlier with Stoke City striker Jon Walters volleying in the equaliser with five minutes left in Dublin.

That goal cancelled out Martin Hinteregger’s first-half opener and allowed the Irish to maintain their unbeaten record in qualifying.

It could have been better for Martin O’Neill’s side, but there was controversy in the 87th minute as the hosts thought they had won it.

Austrian substitute Florian Grillitsch sliced a corner up into the air inside his own six-yard box and Stefan Lainer helped the ball into his own net under pressure from Shane Duffy on the line.

However, Spanish referee David Fernandez Borbalan disallowed the effort, apparently penalising Duffy for leading with his arm.

“There’s nothing wrong with it at all — he’s called a foul on Shane Duffy and I can’t see it,” said O’Neill.

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