Belfast Telegraph

Sam Vokes confident in spite of third successive draw for Wales

By Phil Blanche

Sam Vokes insists Wales are still in the hunt for World Cup qualification despite the Republic of Ireland taking control of their group.

Wales lost the lead for a third successive qualifier against Serbia on Saturday night when Aleksandar Mitrovic cancelled out Gareth Bale's first-half effort five minutes from time.

The 1-1 draw leaves Wales four points adrift of the Irish ahead of their visit to Dublin next March.

Wales also remain two points behind second-placed Serbia, but Vokes is still optimistic over their chances of reaching the 2018 finals in Russia.

"It's early days and we're still well in this group," Vokes said after Wales' third straight draw in World Cup qualifying.

"We're only four games in, so there's a lot to play for.

"But this result does make that Ireland game more important. I wouldn't say it is must-win, but it is a massive game. If we win there it will open the group right up."

The Republic's 1-0 win in Austria extended their excellent start as Martin O'Neill's side made it 10 points from a possible 12.

They have also played three away games and four of their next five qualifiers are in Dublin.

By contrast, Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales have had three home matches and must pick up points on the road next year if they are to reach Russia.

"It was a bitter blow at the end but we looked really good going forward," Burnley striker Vokes said. "We'll go to Ireland full of confidence because we've obviously done well recently. We know we've got to deal with the expectations now coming on the back of the summer.

"I think we have done that, we've just got to come back now and focus on the game in March."

Serbia skipper Branislav Ivanovic was delighted with the draw which maintained their unbeaten record in the group.

They resume World Cup hostilities away to Georgia in March, and Chelsea defender Ivanovic believes Ireland should not get carried away by their position.

"It is very difficult to say someone is favourites in our group," Ivanovic said.

"At the moment Ireland are playing well, but I think they are better in away games because they are a counter-attack team."

Ivanovic praised Newcastle striker Mitrovic for his late leveller and feels the 22-year-old has the right manager in Rafael Benitez.

"He can improve a lot and we hope so, because as a country we need that leader up front," Ivanovic said. "He has a great manager who is good with young talent. He can learn every day."

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