Chris Coleman: Wales boss prepares to face Serbia four years on from 6-1 defeat

Chris Coleman
Wales lost their first five matches under Chris Coleman, including the 6-1 defeat by Serbia in September 2012

Chris Coleman still shudders at the mere mention of Serbia.

It is four years since Wales were mauled 6-1 in Novi Sad, but it only takes a word for the humiliation to come flooding back.

It was a fourth loss in Coleman's fourth game in charge of his country, the worst start by any Wales manager in history.

It was Wales' heaviest defeat for 16 years, no mean feat for a nation which had languished outside of the world's top 100 for much of that time.

All this - and the nightmare of the game itself - is indelibly etched on Coleman's mind.

The wretched defending, the fury of the travelling Welsh fans, the loneliness of the walk from the pitch back to the changing room - it is all as vivid as ever.

"They [the fans] paid a lot of money and travelled a long way to watch a shambles and that was my fault. I had to take responsibly for that," says Coleman.

"I've never been afraid of criticism - my skin's thick enough to accept anything that comes my way. There's nothing worse than when you feel like you've let your country down and I did that in a big way.

"It still haunts me, to be honest. But I think that's quite good for me as well. You never want to experience that ever again."

The thrashing in Serbia was a nadir for Coleman and his players, who drew a line under the embarrassment and vowed never to plumb such depths again.

They beat Scotland in their next match and, after an uplifting end to their ultimately unsuccessful 2014 World Cup qualifying, Wales have since risen to historic new highs.

In qualifying for Euro 2016, Wales reached their first major tournament for 58 years, and once they were in France, a string of stirring displays saw them reach a maiden semi-final before bowing out to eventual winners Portugal.

Wales v Belgium
Wales reached the semi-final of Euro 2016, their first major tournament for 58 years

'Wales players have grown up'

On Saturday, they continue in their quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup when they host Serbia in Cardiff.

Serbia are top of Group D with seven points from their first three matches, while Wales are two points behind in third place.

When the draw was made for the qualifying groups, Coleman says he "had a right smile on my face".

"The last two times we played them [Serbia] we conceded nine goals - we've also got a bit to thank them for," he adds.

"Sometimes you need an electric prod and that certainly came from them."

By his own admission, Coleman was "hanging on" to his job and some players' international futures were in doubt after such a damaging defeat.

However, Coleman persevered and his stock is at an all-time high, with his nomination for Fifa's men's coach of the year award crowning a remarkable year.

The players also stuck it out and, of the 11 who started in the 6-1 defeat in 2012, seven are in the squad for Saturday's match at Cardiff City Stadium.

"It's not the success that you learn from and that shapes you, it is the defeats," Coleman says.

"It's how you get through those tough times - that's what hardens and shapes you. I have seen the players grow up a hell of a lot.

"We have to have a high level of focus and our energy levels and our concentration has to be tip-top. It wasn't for the last couple of games."

Serbia v Wales
Wales look dejected after the 6-1 defeat by Serbia

'Get back to doing what we do best'

After an opening 4-0 win over Moldova and a creditable 2-2 draw in Austria, Wales' qualifying campaign hit an unexpected snag with October's 1-1 home draw against Georgia.

That result has increased the pressure of what was already shaping up to be a significant match against Serbia, who seem to be realising the potential which they have failed to fulfil so badly in recent years.

Appointed in May, manager Slavoljub Muslin has at his disposal a squad of genuine international quality and strength in depth, featuring Premier League players such as Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic and Southampton winger Dusan Tadic.

Tadic scored his first goal for Serbia in the 2012 thrashing in Novi Sad, and Coleman has warned Wales they must improve to avoid another defeat to their familiar foes.

"For myself and for the players, we have to get back to doing what we do best - and that means our concentration levels have to be absolutely fantastic," he says.

"They will be against Serbia, who are very aggressive offensively. They take chances, so this is going to be a tough test for us."

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