Serbia relied on Mijat Gacinovic and Aleksandar Kolarov to beat Moldova 3-0 Saturday and take control of Group D in World Cup European qualifying. Wales beat Austria 1-0 to move closer to second-placed Ireland.
Sharing the group lead with Ireland before the game, Serbia went top outright after victory in Belgrade while its rival was held to a 1-1 draw at Georgia.
With three more games to play, Serbia leads with 15 points, with Ireland on 13. The two play each other in Dublin on Tuesday in a potentially decisive matchup.
With Serbia dominating its opponent in heavy rain in Belgrade, Gacinovic netted a cross provided by Kolarov from the left flank to open the scoring in the 20th minute. Just 10 minutes later, it was Gacinovic from the right who did the same for Kolarov to tap in from close range.
Aleksandar Mitrovic finished the scoring for Serbia nine minutes from time.
Wales remained in contention after beating Austria in Cardiff and trails Ireland by two points. Substitute Benjamin Woodburn scored on his international debut.
Just four minutes into the game in Tbilisi, things looked bright for Ireland as Shane Duffy headed in off a free kick by Cyrus Christie for his first international goal to put the visitors ahead.
But Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup _ for the first time since 2002 _ were damaged a half-hour later when Valeri Qazaishvili equalized from close range.
Ireland coach Martin O’Neill had warned about “some exceptionally good talent” in Georgia’s team and the draw appeared to prove him right.
Despite its fourth draw in the campaign, Georgia is out of contention with four points. Moldova remains at the bottom with 2 points.
After drawing five of its six qualifiers, Wales won again when it mattered on Saturday.
Gareth Bale returned to the team from suspension and produced some magic, including a scissors kick in injury time, but it was substitute Benjamin Woodburn who rescued his country just five minutes after coming off the bench. The 17-year-old Liverpool striker collected the ball after the Austrian defense failed to clear a cross in the 74th and his right-foot unstoppable drive from 25 meters (yards) found the back of the net.
Wales, which reached the semifinals of the European Championship last year, travels to Moldova on Tuesday.
Austria appears to be out of realistic contention for a top-two finish.