World Cup qualifiers: Optimist Coleman harnessing Wales' Euro 2016 spirit for Serbia

Hal Robson-Kanu's winner against Slovakia set the tone for Wales' Euro 2016 finals campaign
Hal Robson-Kanu's winner against Slovakia set the tone for Wales' Euro 2016 finals campaign
World Cup qualifying Group D - Serbia v Wales
Venue: Stadion Rajko Mitic, Belgrade Date: Sunday, 11 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: From 19:00 - Follow on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

When Wales face Serbia at the intimidating Stadion Rajko Mitic in Belgrade on Sunday, four points adrift of their opponents at the top of their World Cup qualifying group, the bliss of Euro 2016 may seem a distant memory.

It will be a year to the day since Wales ended their 58-year absence from major tournaments with a victory against Slovakia in Bordeaux that set Chris Coleman's men on their way to a first semi-final appearance.

A year on, Wales' hopes of reaching a second successive tournament hang in the balance.

Four draws in a row have left them third in Group D, four points behind Serbia and the Republic of Ireland with five games to play.

Lose in Belgrade and Wales can all but forget about qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia.

Win - or, at the very least, draw - and the dream is alive, the dream of reliving the euphoria of last summer.

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"I've tried desperately hard, we all have, to move on, but you don't really want to move on," says Coleman.

"When the national anthem started, that's what I'll always remember, the noise.

"The first tournament, the first game, singing the national anthem was as good as it gets.

"If you want that again, we need to take care of this challenge - because if you want to go and sample tournament football, we need to take care of business now."

Doing it the hard way

Coleman is momentarily caught in a nostalgic haze but he swiftly gathers himself and focuses on the task ahead.

If Wales are going to scale those heights again by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup they will have to do it the hard way.

Against Serbia, the visitors will be without a raft of first-team players including their most influential, Gareth Bale, whose importance to the team can scarcely be underestimated.

The Real Madrid forward is suspended following his yellow card against the Republic of Ireland in March, denying Wales the man who has scored four of their eight goals in this campaign.

Gareth Bale is Wales' talisman and cutting edge but is suspended against Serbia
Gareth Bale is Wales' talisman and cutting edge but is suspended against Serbia

Having claimed three of their 10 goals at Euro 2016 and seven out of 11 in qualifying for that competition, the statistics lay bare how pivotal he is to the Welsh cause.

Coleman will need to alter his side's attacking strategy to compensate for that enormous loss and an injury to Hal Robson-Kanu, and he will have to adapt defensively too, with left-back Neil Taylor suspended and centre-back James Collins injured.

These are the kind of problems Coleman could do without, particularly when Serbia - blessed with greater strength in depth - have been able to name a near first-choice squad.

"We are four points behind with five games to play, but are we good enough to win three or four on the bounce? I don't have to tell you the answer to that," Coleman says.

"Whether it's Serbia away, it doesn't matter. I know we can get a result because we've done it. We've gone to hard places before, we just need to do it again.

"Gareth's [absence] can't affect us. It's about us, the players who are available going in there and producing it. I'm optimistic of getting a result in Serbia."

Great expectations

Coleman has said this campaign will be his last as Wales manager and, should qualification become mathematically impossible at any point, the 47-year-old would consider an early departure.

Defeat in Serbia would therefore raise doubts over his future, a scenario which seems barely believable given the unprecedented success of recent years.

Yet that very success has prompted such speculation, because it has raised the expectations of a nation which was ranked outside the world's top 100 as recently as 2011.

It could be argued Wales and Coleman are becoming victims of their own success.

"In the last campaign we drew at home to Bosnia [October 2014] and it was like we'd won. This campaign when we've drawn it's been like a defeat because of what's happened between the Bosnia game and drawing in Austria [October 2016]," Coleman says.

"What happened in between was unprecedented, nobody thought we were going to get to those dizzy heights.

"You go to Austria and come back with a point and it's a disappointing result because we've qualified and been to a semi-final of a tournament."

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Coleman is a realist, a man who has endured enough strife as a player and manager to know how fickle football can be.

He is also an idealist, a romantic who longs for more of the exhilaration Wales enjoyed during those four golden weeks in France last year.

But most of all Coleman is an optimist, insistent Wales can secure a vital result in Serbia and give a nation reason to believe again.

"Yeah, I just think everyone is waiting for this next one," he says.

"These next two games, I see everyone is going: 'Which way is this going to go?' Whatever happens in Serbia, if we dig out the result it's definitely back on.

"Or it's not and then the next game we absolutely have to win it. We know that. And if we do it's back on, but second spot.

"So it's interesting to see what's going to come out of the mix. Maybe I'm biased but I can't help but be optimistic."

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