SportSoccer

Georgia do Ireland a favour with Wales draw

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale

WALES 1 GEORGIA 1

Wales suffered a World Cup qualifying shock as they were held 1-1 at home by Georgia - a team ranked 127 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

Gareth Bale gave Wales the perfect start with his 25th international goal after 10 minutes, rising superbly to meet Joe Ledley's corner.

But Wales were punished for their first-half profligacy when Georgia counter-attacked at will after the break, and Tornike Okriashvili's 57th minute header gave them their first point in Group D.

It was no less than Georgia deserved as Wales lost control in the second half, with the absences of influential midfield pair Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey proving decisive.

Okriashvili's goal was the first Wales had conceded in a home qualifier for 481 minutes, but it almost got worse as Valeri Kazaishvili's drive clattered the crossbar.

Georgia, ranked 137rd in the world, had won only one of manager Vladimir Weiss' six games in charge, albeit a 1-0 away victory over Spain in June.

But Wales had lost all three of their previous meetings against Georgia and have often struggled to break down stubborn opponents who defend deep in numbers.

The absence of Allen and Ramsey put extra emphasis on Bale to perform, and the Real Madrid forward did not disappoint during a lively start which saw him rise majestically to move within three of Ian Rush's record 28-goal tally.

Bale was clearly in the mood, running at defenders at every opportunity, and testing Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria from a 25-yard free-kick which he himself had won.

Georgia were almost struggling for breath so quickly were Wales moving the ball, and after a brief lull in affairs, they were stretched again by a scorching Bale break.

Davies won possession near his own corner flag and released Bale for a 60-yard burst which was only ended by a desperate block from Kverkvelia.

But Wales had a let-off after 33 minutes when King was penalised for handball right on the edge of the penalty area and Jano Ananidze's curled effort touched the crossbar on the way through.

Wales needed a second goal to ease any nerves which may have existed among the sell-out Cardiff City Stadium crowd of 32,652.

And when it did not come there was Okriashvili to stun Wales with a firm header from Kazaishvili's cross.

There was instantly a greater sense of urgency and Bale twice went close from range and Vokes came within inches of latching on to Chris Gunter's ball which flashed across goal.

But Georgia carried a mounting threat on the break and carved out three great openings which left Wales clinging on.

Ananidze forced Hennessey into a full-length save, Levan Mchedlidze fired wide with the goal at his mercy and Kazaishvili struck the crossbar from 20 yards.

There was a late flurry from Wales but Bale, so often the saviour, this time sent his free-kick just wide and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu saw his shot saved by Loria.

But the result did not flatter Georgia and Wales will have to regroup before next month's home qualifier against Serbia to get their World Cup show back on the road.