Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Serbia-Montenegro sinks Wales

EURO 2004 Despite the loss, Wales still leads Group 9 with 12 points from five matches, two points ahead of Italy which hosts the Welsh in a key qualifier on Sept. 6

AP , BELGRADE

Craig Douglas Bellamy, right, of Wales fights for the ball with Dragan Mladenovic of Serbia and Montenegro, during their Euro 2004 qualifying round match in Belgrade, Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Wales' hopes of direct qualification for Euro 2004 suffered a blow Wednesday when it lost 1-0 to Serbia-Montenegro in a Group 9 qualifier.

Dragan Mladenovic scored the match winner in his first game for the national team with a half-volley from close range in the 73rd minute, ending Wales' four-match unbeaten run. Mark Hughes' squad had needed a point to secure a second-place finish in the group and a berth in the playoffs for next year's championship in Portugal.

Serbia-Montenegro, third at 8 points, has resurrected its chances of reaching the playoffs but will now need to win all of its remaining matches and hope Wales or Italy stumble. The Welsh, who started pressing only after conceding the goal, missed their best chance in the 79th minute when substitute forward Robert Earnshaw eluded Serb goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric, but his shot into an empty goal was cleared by defender Mladen Krstajic.

Serbia-Montenegro dominated the hectic opening minutes, with Mladenovic's shots from close range in the second and ninth minutes going wide.

As Serbia continued its pressure, Lazio midfielder Dejan Stankovic fired a spectacular shot from 20m out that rattled the right goal post of Welsh keeper's Paul Jones goal in the 30th minute.

The only chance for the visitors in the first half came in the 32nd minute when forward Nathan Blake's shot went just wide of the Serb goal. Manchester United's Ryan Giggs sent several dangerous crosses into the area in the closing minutes, but his teammates failed to capitalize.

"A very tough match, but unlike in our previous qualification games, our players showed determination and the will to win," said newly-appointed Serbia-Montenegro coach Ilija Petkovic, referring to the team's embarrassing losses to Finland and Azerbaijan.

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