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Wales draw as Spain, Italy stay neck and neck in WC qualifying

Wales’ midfielder Aaron Ramsey takes a penalty kick on June 11, 2017 © AFP / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

PARIS, France, Jun 12Aaron 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.

Republic of Ireland’s striker Jon Walters (R) celebrates with Jeff Hendrick after scoring on June 11, 2017 © AFP / Paul FAITH

“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.

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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.

Ireland are next in action on September 2, when they go to Georgia, who drew 2-2 in Moldova. Those two sides are well adrift at the bottom of the section.

– Costa wins it for Spain –

Spain’s Diego Costa (L) jumps over with Macedonia’s goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski on June 11, 2017 © AFP / Robert ATANASOVSKI

Spain remain level on points with Italy at the top of Group G after grinding out a 2-1 victory away to Macedonia, with Chelsea’s Diego Costa scoring what proved to be the winner.

The visitors took a 15th-minute lead as David Silva netted after being brilliantly set up by a combination of Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba.

Costa then tapped in after good play from Isco to make it 2-0 before the half-hour mark, with Stefan Ristovski’s superb strike pulling one back for the hosts.

Italy kept up with the 2010 World Cup winners as they cruised to a 5-0 win over Liechtenstein in Udine.

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Lorenzo Insigne, Andrea Belotti, Eder, Federico Bernardeschi and Manolo Gabbiadini were all on target for Italy, who go to Spain next in September.

Those two should end up well clear of the rest, especially after Israel lost 3-0 at home to Albania.

In Group I, just two points separate the top four sides after leaders Croatia lost 1-0 in Iceland, with Hordur Magnusson scoring a last-minute winner for the Euro 2016 quarter-finalists.

Also in contention are Turkey, who won 4-1 against Kosovo, and Ukraine, who were 2-1 winners in Finland. Dynamo Kiev’s Artem Besedin got the winner in Tampere after Yevhen Konoplyanka’s opener had been cancelled out by Joel Pohjanpalo.

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