Chris Coleman revealed his pride at Wales’ plucky effort in the defeat to Croatia in Swansea, but admits his side are now playing for third place after conceding their 2014 World Cup qualification dreams are over.
Gareth Bale handed the Welsh a 21st-minute lead from the penalty spot after Dejan Lovren tripped Joe Ledley inside the box, but late strikes from Lyons centre-back Lovren and Eduardo da Silva effectively ended their hopes of going to Brazil.
Wales now lie 10 points adrift of both Belgium and Croatia in Group A, but Coleman, who admitted he was left “gutted” by the disappointing result, insisted his men must continue fighting in their own mini-league.
“We are in our own league now with Serbia and Macedonia and we need to finish top of that to put us in better position for the next qualifiers. I have to be heartened looking ahead,” the Wales manager said.
“There is everything on it every time you play for your country. We have four games where we can get good points. We have a lot of good young players and are playing in a different way. I said we needed six points and we needed to win to have an outside chance.
“We had good moments and we pushed them hard. I’m gutted, but we can be proud of our efforts. We knew before we kicked a ball we would be up against a very good team. We could have come up two up at half time. We would have earned a draw but they are a very good team.”
Now Igor Stimac’s Croatia will battle it out with the Belgians for a spot in South America next year. But the former Derby and West Ham defender admitted his side were lucky against a much-improved Welsh outfit.
“We were a bit lucky today,” said Stimac. “Wales were tough and it was evident that the two wins versus Scotland have brought confidence to them.
“We did not play well in the first half and my players did not do what I wanted. We were not precise moving the ball and we were lucky not to concede more. But we came back well in the second half. We made good changes especially Ivica Olic. When he came on he made a difference.
“In the end we had more strong players on the bench than Wales and that made the difference. I knew about Belgium [winning] before we started and the fight is between us and Belgium. They now have to come and play us and with this game behind us we are in a better position with this result, we are one step ahead.”
Wales (4-4-2): Myhill (West Bromwich Albion); Gunter (Reading), A Williams (Swansea), Collins (West Ham), B Davies (Swansea); J Williams (C Palace, Church 83), King (Leicester), Ledley (Celtic), Robson-Kanu (Reading, Richards, 64); Bellamy (Cardiff), Bale (Tottenham).
Croatia (4-4-2): Pletikosa; Srna, Lovren, Corluka, Strinic (Olic, 73); Rakitic, Modric, Sammir (Kovacic, 61), Badelj (Shildenfeld, 46); Mandzukic, Eduardo.
Referee L Banti (It).
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